The Happiest Cities in America

How Serotonin and sunshine affect happiness in American cities

UNITED STATES – It might simply be something in the Louisiana air, but the state just claimed five of the ten happiest cities in the United States, according to a new study.

The Study

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 9.44.21 PM

The happiest and unhappiest cities in America

Harvard Professor Edward Gleaser, Vancouver Economics Professor Joshua Gottleib, and Harvard Doctoral Student Oren Ziv produced the study, which ranks the top ten cities in the U.S. based on happiness. It examines statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s survey about behavioral risk.

“In general, how satisfied are you with your life?”

The choices: “very satisfied,” “satisfied,” “dissatisfied,” “very dissatisfied.” This is the survey question the CDC based results on, according to Slate.

The Theory: Sun


Serotonin coming from an artery into the brain

 Maybe that “something” in the air, is the sun?

Research shows the presence of the sun triggers a release of serotonin in the human brain, according to WebMD. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is responsible for the feeling of a “good mood.” Without it, people begin to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, Depression, and a host of other problems, says WebMD.

In the happy state of Louisiana, there are an average of about 215 days of sunshine per year, reports

The Theory: Clouds

 Further digging into the survey, researchers also found a list of the unhappiest cities in America. Not surprisingly, all but one are located in the Northeast, in regions with gray, dismal surroundings.

Five of the top ten unhappiest cities, made the “Top 101 Cities with the Lowest Average Sunshine Amount” list.

Unexplained Factors

When looking at the map of the happiest cities, it shows only locations on the East Coast.

new happy map

Happiness levels of all regions of the United States

What about everywhere else in the country? For example, Denver, CO sees 300 days of sunshine a year, yet they are not in the top ten happiest cities.

Look at a different map though, and it becomes clear that they are still a very happy state. While many did not make the top ten, other places with sun still tend to look very happy.

Geneva, NY

Hobart and William Smith Colleges sits right between two major cities in the area, Syracuse and Rochester. An hour away from both, the colleges see the same weather as the two cities.

This means between 61-63 days of sunshine a year, according to

While this might deter students from maintaining happy attitudes in the winter, many already knew what they were getting into. Of the incoming class, 36 percent were from New York, according to the HWS website. It stands reason to believe that students at the colleges place education over sunny days.


Perhaps it is just a coincidence. Researchers show how half of our happiness comes from genes inherited from previous generations. Either way, here are ways to be happier, no matter where you live.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Phoebe Moore is a Junior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. Studying Writing and Rhetoric, she hopes to pursue some sort of writing career after graduation. Outside of the classroom she is a member of the cross country team and athletic leadership core.