The happiest places in America – 2017 edition

Happiness in the United States is the lowest it's been in a decade, according to the 2017 World Happiness Report from the United Nations. Even so, the U.S. still ranked 14th on the list that considered 155 nations. But that's on a country level, what about within the country? Which counties across the U.S. rank as the happiest places in America in 2017? Read on to find out!

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Key Findings

  • Virginia reigns as the place for happy people – For the second year in a row, the two happiest places in America are in Virginia. You already knew Virginia is for lovers, but it's also a great destination for happy people.

  • The Deep South continues to struggle – Fourteen of the bottom 20 places in our study are in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana. This is not the first time we have seen this trend so here's to hoping the Deep South can make some changes for 2018.

  • Double happiness for New Jersey – Besides Virginia, New Jersey is the only state to have two counties appear in the top 10. Hunterdon County and Morris County ranked sixth and eighth, respectively.

  • People in the West are more active – The Western U.S. may not have many places in our top 25, but it is more active than the East. Of the top 10 places in America where people get their recommended level of physical activity, seven are in Western states. Colorado is particularly strong with three of the top five most active. Oregon and California did well, too.

Here are the happiest US counties:

This is SmartAsset's third annual happiest places study. You can find the 2016 edition of our happiest places in America study here.

Data and Methodology

To find the happiest places in America, SmartAsset created an index to rank the happiest counties in the U.S. We pulled data from several sources and used eight metrics to create our index.

We used two metrics to gauge physical health: average life expectancy and the percentage of the population receiving the recommended weekly exercise. (The National Health Service recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, 75 minutes of rigorous activity or some combination thereof each week.) Both of these metrics were calculated using data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (healthdata.org).

Two metrics were used to calculate personal financial health: personal bankruptcy rate and the ratio of median household income to cost of living (the minimum income needed to afford basic necessities). Data for personal bankruptcy filings came from uscourts.gov. Median household income data came from the Census Bureau's 5-Year American Community Survey (2011-2015). Cost of living data came from MIT's living wage calculator. We used the living wage income for two adults and one child as our cost of living baseline. Unlike 2016, MIT's living wage calculator specifies whether one or both parents is working. We used data for only one working parent. We divided median income by cost of living to get the income ratio for each county.

Divorce and marriage rates allowed us to gauge family stability. We calculated both rates with data from American Community Survey (2011-2015).

A county's overall economic strength came from data on unemployment and poverty rates. For up-to-date unemployment data, we used the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Local Area Unemployment Statistics (February 2016-March 2017). We collected poverty rate data from the American Community Survey (2011-2015).

To create our happiness index we combined all eight metrics, giving them equal weight. To narrow the scope of our study, we set a minimum population of 50,000, the same minimum used in last year's study. Population data came from the American Community Survey (2011-2015). We further narrowed the scope by eliminating counties that didn't have data for all eight metrics. This left us with 980 counties.

To create a happiness index, we individually ranked each county on each metric and then gave each county an average ranking based on all eight metrics. We applied an index score between 0 and 100 using that average ranking. The highest-ranking county received a score of 100 and the lowest-ranking county received a score of 0.

RELATED: World's unhappiest countries 2017

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