First Look

What's the key to well-being? Ask Alaskans and Hawaiians, says Gallup.

Or maybe ask anyone: the difference between top-ranking Hawaii and last-place West Virginia is a scant 6.3 points. 

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    Chad Garner poses before going geocaching in Kincaid Park in Anchorage, Alaska, Wednesday. Alaska ranked second behind Hawaii in the State of the American Well-Being report from Gallup and Healthways, which was released Thursday.
    Mark Thiessen/AP
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What do Hawaii and Alaska have in common? A sense of well-being, according to a new survey.

Hawaii is No. 1, followed by Alaska, in a new Gallup poll ranking all 50 states based on residents' sense of well-being. Alaska claimed the top spot last year, and Hawaii has been No. 1 in the poll five times since 2008, when the survey began.

"Alaska and Hawaii are both beautiful states in their own way but distinctly different," said Dan Witters, research director of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

Mountainous Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming hold spots 3, 4, and 5 in the State of American Well-Being: 2015 State Rankings report, gathered from a non-scientific telephone interview of 177,281 residents across the country.

The bottom five are Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia, which has been last in the rankings for the past seven years. Kentucky has held No. 49 during the same time.

The difference between top-ranking Hawaii and last-place West Virginia is a scant 6.3 points. Results are compiled based on answers to survey questions based on these five areas, from Gallup:

  • Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  • Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life
  • Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  • Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community
  • Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

Overall, well-being hasn't changed much since 2014. The Well-Being Index score for the United States was 61.7 in 2015, compared to 61.6 in 2014. Within that unchanged number, though, there are some good news trends, according to Gallup. Americans reported an improved sense of financial well-being, and a decline in the uninsured rate compared to previous years. Fewer people reported smoking than in all eight years of the survey, and respondents claimed an increase in exercise and declines in both food and healthcare insecurity.

How Americans rate and perceive their lives also reached an all-time high for the survey. Though the survey ranked Hawaii and Alaska highly, all is not carefree along the Pacific. Hawaii residents said they worry about money and housing. Alaskans were generally negative about their appearance. If there is a commonality between the two top well-being states, it is the great outdoors. Alexis Will, of Fairbanks, said exercise is key to quality of life for Alaskans, in an interview with the Associated Press.

"It seems like people here aren't as timid about going out no matter what the weather, and I think that really brings a good sense of self and place to people," she said. "You get to see the subtle changes throughout the year, and find the beauty even if it's raining sideways or negative 40."

Asked if she can imagine living in any other state, she responded, "I can, and it's never very nice."

Kent Terada, a Hawaii resident and respiratory therapist who works three, 12-hour shifts a week, told the AP he visits the beach in Honolulu every Monday and Tuesday to surf for a few hours, go for a run and grab a bite to eat. Then he finds a shady tree and strums his ukulele.

"It's a pretty good life I must say," Mr. Terada said. "Am I supposed to be having this much fun? I'm not sure."​

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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