Can money buy happiness? In Alaska, as elsewhere, the answer appears to be yes, though it's not the only factor that determines how satisfied an Alaskan is with life in the Last Frontier.
A new statewide poll by Alaska Dispatch News found higher levels of wealth and living standards corresponded with higher quality of life ratings. The findings are similar to those from a larger study by economist Justin Wolfers that found a strong correlation between average income and life satisfaction.
Good health was also a strong predictor a respondent would perceive his or her quality of life in Alaska as high.
The poll, conducted by Alaska Survey Research, found overall satisfaction with Alaska residency was quite good. On a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being excellent, the 750 people surveyed on average graded their quality of life at 5.4.
"When we do employee research surveys you'll typically see something like this," said Ivan Moore, president of Alaska Survey Research. "Most people are happy, but inevitably there are a few who are not."
The health of the local environment, strong social networks and access to nutritious food also were important factors influencing how respondents viewed their quality of life.
Moore found that certain demographic groups tend to be more satisfied than others. For example, men and short-time Alaska residents tend to have more favorable views of their quality of life than do women and longer-term residents. Married Alaskans generally rate their quality of life higher than those who are single. And so on.
So which demographic groups tend to be the happiest?
Within the pool of survey respondents, Alaska State Trooper Hunter Martin Hull came closest to being a walking statistical composite of a very happy Alaskan. He's white and married and, with his wife's income, makes more than $100,000. The couple lives near Seward. They moved here five years ago from a small town in western Michigan that was hit hard by the collapse of Detroit's auto industry. Unlike the prototypical happiest Alaskan -- as defined by the survey -- Hull is not over age 65 (he's 26 years old) and does not have kids.
Hull loves Alaska and rated his life here a solid 7, the highest score in the poll.
"It's everything I've ever wanted," he said. "My wife and I are both in really good shape. We both work full-time. We're both outdoorsy. A lot of the people here are awesome. You don't know what the future's going to hold, but I don't see us leaving anytime soon."
When asked what more could possibly improve his satisfaction with life in Alaska, Hull had no immediate answer.
"By no means do I have a perfect life, but I can't think off the top of my head of anything that would really need to change," he said before noting that the addition of a movie theater in town would allow him and his wife to avoid driving 120 miles to Anchorage for the latest films.
"It's not something we really need, but there's always some sort of room for improvement," he said.