The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many Americans to move, and for good reason: We’ve learned, often the hard way, that where you live can have a dramatic impact on how happy you are. And in case you’re curious where the most blissful areas are hiding in the U.S., a new study points us in some surprising directions.
According to the 2022 Happiest Cities in America survey from WalletHub, people craving contentment should head west. California took the lion’s share of honors this year, with six cities nabbing slots in the top 10. No big shock there.
But the happiest city of all may indeed come as a surprise: Fremont, a city 44 miles southeast of San Francisco. In fact, Fremont has topped this list for the past three years in a row, says Jill Gonzalez, an analyst at WalletHub.
To come to these findings, WalletHub compared 182 of the largest cities in the U.S. looking at a variety of factors, including poverty levels, job satisfaction, work/leisure hours, divorce rates, and much more, that go into shaping our emotional well-being.
So why does Fremont fire up so much joy?
Inside America’s happiest city
While not as renowned as San Francisco, Fremont boasts residents who are clinically blessed with a bright outlook, according to the data.
“Fremont has the second-lowest depression rate, at just 13%. Plus, it has a low number of retail opioid prescriptions dispensed and a high share of adults with good mental health,” Gonzalez says.
Environmental factors play a role, too, as measured in this study via proximity to public parks and length of commutes to work—that is, if residents are commuting much at all these days. Since Silicon Valley has led the charge on allowing flexible work-from-home schedules, Fremont residents may have benefited.
“Long commutes and traffic are happiness killers, so I hope that COVID has taught us that our workforce can be productive on a virtual or flexible schedule,” says Chip Espinoza, interim provost and dean of strategy and innovation at Vanguard University of Southern California and a WalletHub expert commentator.
Physical activity is also linked to happiness, so it’s no surprise that two of these top 10 California cities (Fremont and Irvine) rank in the top five in terms of sports participation rates.
“The amount of sunshine that California gets and the number of days you can venture out means it’s hard not to get to the great outdoors for some exercise, which is clearly important to mental health,” says Tony Mariotti, a real estate agent at RubyHome in Los Angeles.
Sunny, warm weather is another no-brainer path to peace, as is evidenced by the high rankings of Fremont, Irvine, and San Jose, as well as two cities in Hawaii: the capital, Honolulu, and Pearl City, also on the island of Oahu.
And although it seems like every Hollywood A-list couple breaks up regularly, four California cities prove this trend to be dead wrong. Fremont, Glendale, Irvine, and San Jose feature the lowest separation and divorce rates in the survey.
Now some unhappy news: All those glorious days in the California sun come at a cost, with homes prices here being among the highest in the country.
Due to this expense as well as high taxes, “the narrative during the pandemic has been that people are leaving California in droves,” admits Mariotti. Still, he considers the “sunshine tax” to be one worth paying.
More surprising happy cities
But don’t worry: If sunny climes and high home prices aren’t your speed, other sections of the U.S., from the Midwest to the East Coast, have a top city to suit just about every kind of homeowner.
Other parts of the country also fare well on the happiness scale—including Columbia, MD; Overland Park, KS; and Madison, WI—thanks to high marks in the physical and emotional health categories as well as their environment and community spirit.
Happiest cities in America
- Fremont, CA
- Columbia, MD
- San Francisco, CA
- San Jose, CA
- Irvine, CA
- Madison, WI
- Seattle, WA
- Overland Park, KS
- Huntington Beach, CA
- San Diego, CA