Happiest and healthiest city in the U.S.


Gallup poll rates Boulder #1 in health and happiness

The findings of the  Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index were released this week, and were compiled based on interviews with more than 353,000 Americans. This poll is, in essence, a survey of attitudes and lifestyles around the U.S. The “life evaluation” for each city consists of job opportunities, personal finances, physical health, emotional state of mind and communities, and concludes that Boulder, “the city at the foot of the Rocky Mountains”, is home to the healthiest and the happiest people in America. This makes Boulder the prime U.S. location for general well-being and quality of life. Now I know why I can’t escape this place after moving here 20 years ago to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder (pictured above). It only goes down from here.

The view from the picture above is not your typical view of Boulder – facing into the beautiful mountains. This is the view from in the foothills looking out over Boulder. It’s what you see when you take a break from your mid-afternoon hike in late June during our rainy season, and turn away from the trail to look toward your home. There’s nothing quite like it.

The obvious reasons for these findings

What makes Boulder the healthiest and happiest? On the surface, we have the obvious reasons. The good weather is partly attributed. Close proximity to the mountains make outdoor recreation easy. It seems like there’s a Whole Foods on every other block (are they trying to rival Starbucks?) so eating healthy is hard NOT to do. Unemployment is low. There’s money here for Parks and Rec and keeping our open space pristine. The streets are clean and there’s little crime (especially now that medical marijuana is legal). That seems to sum it up. Yet it doesn’t quite tell the whole story.

The not so obvious reasons

Health and happiness are linked

It doesn’t seem to me like a coincidence that “healthiest” and “happiest” went to the same city. In a Daily Camera article discussing these findings, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado hinted at a link between health and happiness. Well, not only is there a connection, but there is an interdependence. And that interdependence is not nearly as obvious as it should be. If it were that obvious there would be many more gym memberships and less prescriptions for prozac. I’m not sure how Boulder fares in number of prescriptions, but we do have quite a reputation for our citizens getting their exercise on, whether they are doing it in the gym, on the slopes or in yoga class. And there are so many healthy food options and alternatives to the standard American diet that you almost have to try to eat badly in this city.  The Roman, Juvenal, nailed it when he said “A healthy mind in a healthy body.”

Community is more important than we think

Another, much less obvious reason is the influence of community. This is one of the categories of the “life evaluation” and was probably meant in more of an “amenities” kind of way, like what the physical surroundings have to offer, than what I’m talking about here. This is a word that didn’t have much meaning to me, having grown up in a suburb, until I moved to Boulder as a single mom. Without the amazing community here in Boulder my daughter and I would not be where we are today. Community and everything that word stands for is STRONG here in Boulder. And there are many overlapping communities here. These communities provide support, activity, and most importantly – connection. These things make people happy.

What to do to become healthier and happier

What can you do to become healthier and happier? Well, just moving to Boulder probably won’t do it. And you don’t have to go anywhere to do it. Your own hometown will do. Try one of these methods:

  1. Increase your level of physical health, whether that means eating healthier on a regular basis or exercising more regularly or both. Start today in some small way.
  2. Now that you are physically feeling better you will start to feel a little better mentally. This will give you a little more motivation to still your mind, learn some relaxation techniques, or learn how to better deal with stress (thereby increasing your mental well being). Go back to Step 1.
  1. Increase your level of mental well being by learning to still your mind with meditation, by learning relaxation techniques, or learning how to better deal with stress.
  2. Now that you are mentally feeling better you will start to feel a little better physically. This will give you a little more motivation to increase your level of physical health by eating a little healthier or exercising more regularly. Go back to Step 1.
  1. Join a community. Pick one that excites you and motivates you to become a better person (this may even mean just having more fun).
  2. Join another one.

Got it?

Consistency is the key to any one of these methods. Doing just a little bit every day to improve either your health or your state of happiness will naturally increase both. You may not see or feel the results at first, but don’t worry, not only are the effects cumulative, they tend to increase exponentially!

Have faith and don’t all move to Boulder at once.

Jen MurphyComment