A new survey of Americans has revealed that Alaska ranks highest in the nation for residents' well-being, as determined by indicators including social satisfaction, good health and sense of purpose.
According to the survey, conducted by the polling firm Gallup and health consulting firm Healthways, Alaska jumped 15 spots from the 2013 rankings to seize the title of "happiest state in America." In 2014, Alaska ranked first in the survey category of "purpose," defined as "liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals."
The Last Frontier ranked second in the "financial" and "physical" categories, and third in the "community" category. Overall, the state came in just ahead of Hawaii and South Dakota. Last year's state with the highest well-being, North Dakota, fell a whopping 22 spots in the 2014 rankings.
"North Dakota's drop was mostly attributable to a drop in its residents' overall life evaluation, coupled with worsened health-related behaviors such as higher smoking rates, reduced exercise and less healthy eating compared with 2013," the survey summary reported.
Alaska had ranked among the five happiest states from 2009 to 2011. The states with the lowest well-being in 2014, according to the survey, were West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana.
The ranking would seem to run contrary to Alaska's consistent position at or near the top of other, more negative indices for things like rates of crime and sexual assault. In 2013, Alaska experienced the highest rate of rape in the nation, almost three times the national average. The state also experiences extremely high rates of suicide, at times twice the national average.
Dr. Patrick Dulin, director of the University of Alaska Anchorage's Center for Behavioral Health Research and Services, said the high rankings in two disparate categories could be due to a number of factors, including the type of questions asked as part of the Gallup-Healthways survey and the respondents to the survey.
"Alaska, I think, has that real positive effect on people's well-being," Dulin said, citing the state's natural beauty and the variety of activities available to residents, and adding that the most recent survey results weren't necessarily "fallacious or problematic."
Using Anchorage as an example, Dulin said some or even a majority of the city's residents might experience a high quality of life, but that doesn't mean that others aren't suffering the effects of social or behavioral ills.
"A lot of places have this nice sense of community, but even within Anchorage, you can go to these places that have these tremendous problems with homicide and addiction and crime," Dulin said. "A lot of people live in Anchorage without seeing or noticing that stuff."
"In such a big omnibus survey, it just doesn't tell a good story about other things that could be going on," he said. "It's possible to have these two things existing at the same time."
The Gallup-Healthways survey interviewed more than 175,000 people nationally and was conducted via cellphones and landlines over the course of 2014.