The State of Happiness

I spend a lot of time thinking about happiness – not because I am unhappy, but because I know that happiness is an active process. One of my Facebook friend’s recently posted a link to the latest happiness survey from Gallup. It certainly didn’t surprise me to see that Hawaii is the happiest state in the US or that Florida ranks 12th. I’ve been happy in both of those places. I wasn’t even surprised to see that Colorado is #4. I lived in Colorado for five years and experienced some pretty happy times there too. What did cause me to pause for a moment was seeing that my home state – Tennessee – ranks 37th.

Now let me clarify a bit here – I wasn’t surprised that Tennessee was ranked that low. I was surprised that it wasn’t ranked lower! I know there are happy people here – I run into them from time to time – but I can’t recall ever being in a place with so many unhappy (or just grumpy) people.

According to the survey, our state has some good reasons to be unhappy. Tennessee does have the third highest violent crime rate of any state and the 7th highest poverty rate. In fact, just this week – and just a mile away from our apartment – a woman attacked a police officer with an ax when she was served with an eviction notice. Sadly, the officer was injured and the woman killed. (I might also mention that this is the third violent death in my little town of 39,000 folks this year!)

Then there are our health issues – 24.2% of adults in Tennessee smoke, 31.2% are obese, and my favorite statistic of them all –Tennessee adults have the second lowest fruit intake in the country. How sad is that? We don’t even like fruit here in the Volunteer State.

For a while I pondered the happiness (or lack thereof) of my fellow Tennesseans. Then I went to the post office…

“This line is incredibly long,” said the woman in front of me, making sure to really draw out the syllables in incredibly. “You know why,” added the gentleman three people behind us. “It’s because the government is sending aid to foreign countries whiles our own post office is having to cut back”. “Zombies,” interjected another man. “That’s what’s wrong with today’s youth. They are so obsessed with television that they go off biting each other in the face.” “While our soldiers don’t even get quality healthcare,” someone else said.

As I tried to tune out the voices, a woman yelled into her cellphone, “I don’t have the time in MY busy day to be standing here”. Two other people came in, muttered expletives, and stomped off to “go to UPS”. Even the clerk mumbled “you’ve got to be kidding me” when a customer asked for a delivery confirmation.

It was at this point that I came to clarity. The people around me are crazy.

You thought I was going to say something profound about happiness, right? Nope. I still don’t know what’s making those 2,500 or so Tennesseans that participated in the Gallup poll, or 99% of the folks in line at the post office, so stressed, bitter, angry, frustrated, disheartened, sad, or just plain unhappy. I just know that standing there listening to everyone made me realize that I don’t want to be one of them.

Happiness is not a state of the union. It is a state of mind.


The criteria for the Gallup rankings includes work environment, physical and emotional health, and access to basic services (health care, recreation, safe and affordable housing, fresh fruit and vegetables, and enough money to live on). 

To see where your state ranks, read more at: America’s Happiest (and Most Miserable) States

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