You might think I am joking, but the "Happiest States" list annoyed me so much that I had to go and rail a line of GABA before I could deal with it.
I don't know if the original authors are as dumb as the media reports of it, but something tells me that they were not as critical of their own research as they should be. As for the media...
One problem with lists like these is that they are ranked cardinally, by order. Which is how sports teams are ranked. But, unlike making the playoffs, being ranked statistically is not so clean cut. When I get my hands on the actual data, I will plot that too, but as it is, I am just plotting the rankings, which might be very deceptive. There is a good chance that the separation on this list is by a small amount of degrees. This also comes up with lifespan measurements: a country may be ranked 30 places behind another country because people live three months shorter.
Anyway! I plotted the numbers against suicide rate. Suicide rate, is, of course, a bad way to measure people's general happiness. Suicide numbers are thankfully low, so even in a place where 99.9 of the people are very happy, a small subset might be suicidal. However, since suicide also probably correlates pretty well with suicide attempts, and major and minor depression, any measure of happiness that didn't somehow relate to it might be flawed.
So, I worked up this diagram:
On this diagram, the further to the left a state is, the more happy it is. The further up, the higher the suicide rate is. With that in mind, something should be noted: first, there is not much general trend at all. Second, what trend there is is towards the "unhappy" states having the lowest suicide rates. In fact, New York, the unhappiest state, has the lowest suicide rate. A big outlier like that should probably be a pretty big hint that there is something wrong with the data.
Of course, there are not many people reading this blog, so I am sure that BIG FANCY EAST COAST LIBERAL STATES=UNHAPPY BUT GOOD RELIGIOUS TRADITIONAL SOUTHERNERS=HAPPY will embed itself in at least some people's popular wisdom.
Oh, and the suicide statistics came from here: