By Heather Mullinix
Sometimes, rankings come along and you wonder, “How on earth did they decide that?”
Take, for example, a recent ranking of the most miserable states in America. Good Old Rocky Top Tennessee came in at number seven.
I guess that’s not too bad. We fared better than West Virginia, which topped the list that compared items of well-being and physical and emotional health. The factors in the ranking included employment, education, health and local environment.
It’s the fifth year in a row West Virginia topped the list, and given the water problems earlier this year, I don’t see them doing better next year.
After West Virginia came our neighbor to the north, Kentucky, which found 30 percent of residents said health issues prevented them from going about their normal lives. It’s also the most reliant on prescription drugs. In Mississippi, people had negative feelings about their work environment. In Alabama, people said they didn’t have enough money to afford medicine, food or adequate shelter. OK, that seems like good reasons to be miserable.
Ohio was number five, with just 49.3 percent of respondents saying they were thriving in their lives this past year. That was one of the lowest proportions in the state and overcame other indicators, like a median household income higher than other miserable states and better access to basic needs.
Tennessee ranked number seven on the list, primarily because Tennessee residents are among the most likely to have a variety of physical health problems in 2013, like diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and chronic pain. The state has a violent crime rate of 643.6 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2012, the highest in the nation. That led to many saying they didn’t feel safe walking at night. Economic confidence was also among the worst in the nation.
Our stats found a life expectancy of 76.3 years. The median household income in the state is $42,764 per year. We have 85.1 percent of our resident with a high school diploma and 31.3 percent of residents are obese.
The ranking was based on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which interviewed more than 176,000 people from all 50 states last year to measure. Dan Witters, research director for the index, suggested that a strong economy and a healthy, educated workforce can improve well-being, just as a high well-being may influence further development. People living in states with high well-being scores tended to be less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise regularly and learn new things every day. The opposite was true in the miserable states.
And while money does not by happiness, the study found a correlation between income and emotional health, which peak at around $75,000 a year. Well, OK. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it is a lot easier to be happy when you aren’t stressed about how you’re going to keep a roof over your head and food on your table and how you’ll afford retirement, short of moving in with the kids.
There are a lot of things the ranking can’t possibly measure, though, and that’s why I believe, at least from my point of view, the ranking is wrong.
Honestly, I don’t think Tennessee is a miserable state to live in. I’d be willing to grant them it’s worse to live in Alabama or West Virginia than Tennessee, but that’s really just regional bias rearing its ugly head. I would never want to live in ‘Bama.
But I find lots of reasons to love living in Tennessee. First, we get four seasons. Right now some may be saying, “Yes, but do we really have to have them all in the same week?” Yes. It’s part of the charm here on the Plateau. You can go from 0 degrees to 60 all in the same week. It makes keeping your wardrobe aligned with the season a bit difficult, but that’s why we have layering.
With those four seasons come all sorts of wonderful outdoor activities to enjoy in the scenic beauty of the state. From the mountains in the east to the flat country over around Memphis, we’ve got a little bit of everything. Personally, I’m partial to the scenery we enjoy right here on the Cumberland Plateau. We can hike, enjoy lakes and rivers and streams, or just sit on a front porch swing enjoying a nice glass of lemonade.
Though our median annual household income may not rival some of the other states in the nation, Tennessee also enjoys a lower cost of living. We’re within a day’s drive of about any major city in the eastern part of the U.S., so you can always enjoy traveling. We got the best roads in the country.
And, we’re friendly.
Take a drive down the road. Do people you don’t know wave at you? Yes. Why? Because that’s just what you do. You wave at people. You smile. You say “thank you” and “please.”
The other stuff, like health problems, we’re working on. There’s an initiative in the state to help people make healthier choices and, through education and encouragement, those numbers for diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are bound to come down.
And then everyone will know what I’ve always known — be it ever so humble, there is no place like my Tennessee home.
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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at email@example.com.