Happy? You must be from Rochester

What’s your secret, Rochester?

The Minnesota city is the only metropolitan area in the north to make the top-10 list of happiest cities. The study from the University of British Columbia and Harvard University ranked Rochester #2 — behind Charlottesville, Virginia — on the list of happy.

1. Charlottesville, VA
2. Rochester, MN
3. Lafayette, LA
4. Naples, FL
5. Baton Rouge, LA
6. Flagstaff, AZ
7. Shreveport, LA
8. Houma, LA
9. Corpus Christi, TX
10. Provo, UT

Minneapolis-Saint Paul ranked #70 on the list.

Northern cities dominated the list of unhappy cities.

1. New York, NY
2. Pittsburgh, PA
3. Louisville, KY
4. Milwaukee, WI
5. Detroit, MI
6. Indianapolis, IN
7. St. Louis, MO
8. Las Vegas, NV
9. Buffalo, NY
10. Philadelphia, PA

Curiously, income does not appear to be a significant factor in happiness. Indeed, it may be that population shifts of a city dictate whether people say they’re happy, the researchers indicated.

It may well be, they seemed to suggest, that cities were victims of their own success:

One interpretation of these results is that the industrial cities were less happy in 1940, but their residents were being compensated with earnings that could achieve other ends, such as nurturing a family.

The data also shows that housing prices in 1940 were higher in areas that subsequently declined, yet there are essentially no housing quality controls in that early data. As such, while it is possible that some of the high earnings in declining cities were eaten away by higher housing rents, it is also possible that these rents were actually compensation for better housing quality.

When we turn to 2000 Census data, we find that the unhappy, declining cities are no longer receiving higher wages. Wages are essentially uncorrelated with our growth variable in the more modern data. But decline is correlated with house prices and rents. In 1940, the residents of unhappy, declining places seem to have been compensated with higher incomes. In 2000, the residents of those same cities seem to have been compensated with lower housing costs.


The researchers also dispute previous studies on the relationship between happiness and children. While it found one-child families tend to be slightly less happy than those without children, it found happiness increases with more children. But it also found that happiness declines when the children become teenagers, a fact the parent of any teenager will likely attest.

  • MrE85

    Thank you for not embedding that damn Pharrell song.

  • John O.

    \What’s your secret, Rochester?

    Dunkin’ Donuts.

    • Jessica

      actully we just got 1 last month

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    Of course Rochester is happy, it has a highway most metro suburbs would die for.

    • A 4 lane divided highway with lights every 1/2 mile? Those are all over the metro…

      • Aortaorta

        Actually, it’s a 6 lane.

        • to which highway are you referring? I checked Google Maps and it sure looked very “4 lane-ish” to me.


  • Dave

    This must be the only list on which both Rochester and small towns in Louisiana will appear.

  • earl

    Does this mean that (very generally speaking) mean old angry Republicans are happier than cool, young attractive Democrats?

    • Xopher

      They should be. The game is rigged in their favor.

  • boB From WA

    Define “Happy”.

  • Veronica

    Hmm. Husband and I lived there for a few years. It was OK. I don’t miss it, though.

  • John

    I look at the map, and I wonder what makes St. Louis County happy. I lived there the first 18 years of my life, but it wasn’t for me, so now I live here – in a less happy place apparently.

    I don’t have time to read the linked article, so I’ll just wonder what defines a happy place. I know that I wouldn’t be happy in Louisiana (too hot for me), yet people seem to be happier there than anywhere else. I suspect I’d be happy in ME, VT or MA, but those areas have overall happiness similar to here. Ditto for OR and WA. I’ve spent time in TX – it did not make me happy. My view of the world is significantly different from that of TX (and it’s too hot).

    Perhaps I’m an outlier. I’ve always suspected as much.

    Unrelated – when i get home tonight I’m gong to look up the origins of the word happy, because the more times I write it, the sillier it looks and the more trouble I have defining it.

  • johnnyrocket

    I think no one from list production team has ever been in Key West.

  • TimTimTim

    Where do they come up with this stuff? How does one gauge happiness?

    • All the methodology is in the study at the link above.