March 8, 2013

The Happiness Meter

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Q: If happiness could be measured, where would Oklahomans rank?

A: Oklahomans aren’t the unhappiest people in the United States – West Virginians get that honor, according to a new measure . But it isn’t sunshine in Oklahoma either.

According to an annual rating by Gallup and Healthways, Oklahoma ranks among the bottom 10 states when it comes to overall “well-being.” The rating is often referred to in the media as a “happiness” meter. The 2012 results were just released.

In the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, Oklahoma’s rating has hovered below the national average since 2008, and while the state’s index has improved, it hasn’t done so fast enough to avoid falling into the bottom 10.

The index is measured by averaging different sub-indexes, which are crafted based on interviews and trends, such as obesity rates and how often a state’s citizens get exercise.

Oklahoma’s numbers (on a 100-point scale):
Well-being overall: 65.2
Life evaluation: 46.5
Emotional health: 78.5
Physical health: 74.1
Healthy behavior: 60.9
Work environment: 51.1
Basic access: 79.9

Oklahoma scored in the bottom 10 of states in four out of the five sub-indexes. Its emotional health was ranked 39th out of 50. Oklahoma did score in the top 10 in work environment, placing 8 out of 10.

From 2011 to 2012, Oklahoma improved its placement in two of the six categories: healthy behavior and basic access, which encompasses access to food, water and medical attention, among other things.

The top states in overall well-being were Hawaii, Colorado, Minnesota, Utah, Vermont and Nebraska.

One reason Oklahoma struggles to make larger gains in well-being is that new policies intended to promote well-being need time to take effect, said Leslea Bennett-Webb, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Health.

“It takes awhile to catch up,” Bennett-Webb said. “We are just beginning to see improvement from our policies.”

Another problem is that some proposals, such as a recent bill to allow local governments to set anti-smoking laws that are stricter than the state’s, run into resistance, she said. That can affect Oklahoma’s ability to keep up with other states that enact more changes to improve health.

Although the Gallup-Healthways index is often called a happiness rating, collective happiness is difficult to measure. In fact, the Gallup-Healthway report never mentions the word “happy” or “happiness.”