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America's 5 Happiest (and 5 Most Miserable) States

24/7 Wall St. Logo By Thomas C. Frohlich and Mark Lieberman of 24/7 Wall St. | Slide 1 of 11

Five essential elements were graded

Alaska led the nation with the highest level of well-being of all states, supplanting North Dakota, which plummeted to 23rd place. West Virginia remains the state with the lowest well-being for the sixth consecutive year.

The 2014 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index measures the well-being of Americans in each state based on interviews conducted between January and December, 2014. This year’s index incorporated a range of metrics categorized into five essential elements of well-being: purpose, social, financial, community, and physical. Based on the well-being index, 24/7 Wall St. examined the states with the highest and lowest scores.

While Gallup’s index is based in part on subjective survey measures, the respondents’ perceptions are often closely tied to outcomes. According to Dan Witters, research director of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, well-being is closely linked to economic indicators and societal outcomes, such as median household income and teen pregnancy rates.

Witters explained that the five essential elements of well-being are interwoven, and a high score in one category can lead to a high score in another. However, this was not guaranteed by any means. All of the 10 happiest states rated better than most in the purpose category, which measures how much residents like their day-to-day lives and how motivated they are to meet their goals. However, in other categories, such as the financial element of well-being, two of the top states overall fared worse than most states.

Physical health, which together with healthy behaviors, was part of the physical element of well-being this year, is an especially important factor contributing to happiness, according to Witters. In fact, examination of healthy behaviors and outcomes measured by government data suggest this is the case.

In states with high well-being scores, residents were less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise regularly. Residents in nine of the happiest states were more likely than most Americans to have an exercise routine of some kind. All but one of the states with the lowest well-being, on the other hand, had more physically inactive residents compared to the national average.

The states with the highest well-being also enjoyed the positive outcomes of healthy behaviors, including lower obesity rates and smaller incidences of other common health problems, while in general the opposite was true for the states with the lowest well-being. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, as well as heart disease-related deaths were all far more common in the states with the lowest well-being.

While money certainly does not buy happiness, financial well-being plays a significant role in happiness. All of the most miserable states had median household incomes far below the national median income of $52,250 in 2013. However, the median household income in only half of the happiest states exceeded the national median income.

The states with the happiest residents also had relatively low unemployment rates, and people reported relatively few days of poor mental health. The unemployment rates in all of the 10 happiest states was less than the national rate of 7.4% in 2013. And nine of these states reported fewer monthly poor mental health days than the national average.

Click ahead for America's five happiest (and five most miserable) states, and then visit 24/7 Wall St. for the complete report.

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