National Geographic : 2017 Nov
happiest places 57 There’s reason to think so—if a community like Boulder, Colorado, is any indication. If Americans want to feel more joy in their lives, pursue their purpose more rewardingly, and find greater satisfaction in achiev- ing their goals, they could listen to the citizens of Boulder talk about how to shape their community to support, rather than hinder, their collective happiness. Indeed, since the U.S. isn’t one of the top 10 happiest places, it might do well to look to local bright spots to inform national policy. That’s what I learned from Ruth Wright, an 88-year-old citizen activist, one chilly spring afternoon as we strolled down Pearl Street, the city’s main pedestrian mall. It was two o’clock on a workday, and a hard moun- tain sun was beating down on the brick pavement. Men in puffy down jackets huddled in conversation, dreadlocked students tapped on com- puters at outdoor cafés, and only a few people in office-friendly plaids seemed to be moving with any destination in mind. Decades ago, when the City Council decided to allow high-rise build- ings downtown that would have interfered with the mountain view, Wright led a successful cam- paign to ensure no building would cut Boulderites off from nature. It was the beginning of a career of questioning the unquestioned virtue of develop- ment. Her public service led her to the state legis- lature, where she represented much of Boulder for 14 years, with a stint as minority leader. As we passed through the historic section of downtown, Wright frowned at a new glass- and-brick structure, occupied by eco-chic outdoor-clothing boutiques and organic foodie emporiums, whose presence she found jarring. At the next intersection she gestured toward the end of Pearl Street. “My life’s work has been in preserving that,” she said, pointing to where the pine-dotted Rocky Mountains towered majesti- cally over the rooftops. As stunning as the setting is, Boulder’s appeal is more than just skin-deep. Besides being a college town, an adventure destination, and a haven for elite athletes, it produces the highest level of well- being for its residents. “People there live better lives than residents of any other city for which we have results,” said Dan Witters, a research direc- tor at Gallup, which since 2008 has surveyed more than 2.5 million people in American communities. Witters created the Gallup–National Geo- graphic Index, designed to assess 18 of the most important indicators of well-being. His analysis included obesity rates, absence of pain, feel- ings of safety and security, whether people use PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION THRIVING IN EACH CATEGORY Financial 48 Community 47 Physical 44 Purpose 36 Social 43 HAPPINESS FACTOR BOULDER, COLORADO People in Boulder seem to have learned the secret to living a balanced life. Many thrive in four out of five measures of well-being, especially in community engagement and financial health. GALLUP-SHARECARE WELL-BEING INDEX, 2016 STATES OF BLISS How happy are people where you live? Check out our state-by-state happiness map at natgeo.com /happieststates.