Healthy lifestyles, higher than average incomes and overall quality of life appear to be key factors for why Californians tend to be happier than their counterparts in other states.

A recent study by SmartAsset, an online hub for consumer finance information, found that the happiest city in America was Sunnyvale in Santa Clara County. Earlier this year, another study ranked the town of Concord in the Bay Area as the happiest in the nation.

Regardless of which study you trust, both found that America’s “happiest” cities can be found in California.

Jennifer Garnett, communications officer for the city of Sunnyvale spoke to The Hill’s Changing America about the recent ranking. She highlighted the city’s quality of life as a reason why its residents have a reason to smile.

“We deliver exceptional services as a city,” Garnett said. “I think that’s one of the many reasons Sunnyvale is so attractive. But we’re also at the heart of Silicon Valley. And people come here from all over the world because of the great jobs, the weather, all the things to do, low crime, and all of those things combine into a great quality of life.” 

Those two cities weren’t alone in the rankings — several other California towns were among the happiest in the nation. The reason that Californians tend to be happier probably won’t come as much of a surprise. One of the most logical reasons is money.

Silicon Valley is the tech capital of the world with some of the state’s highest paying jobs. In Southern California, the film industry is one of the state’s biggest employers and those who work in the business are rewarded with higher-than-average wages.

1000 Steps Beach, Laguna Beach
1000 Steps Beach, Laguna Beach, California. (Roberto Nickson/Unsplash)

Those well-paying jobs are theorized to be big contributing factors in the overall happiness of Californians.

The median household income in California is around $80,000 — about $10,000 higher than the national median.

With higher paying jobs comes more disposable income, aka, more to spend and do.

According to Changing America, a study from 2021 found that Americans associate higher income with a better overall outlook day-to-day and improved life satisfaction. The old adage that money can’t buy happiness, might need a 21st Century update.

Another added perk to higher wages? Health.

Those who have disposable income or aren’t living paycheck to paycheck tend to have better access to quality health care and better living conditions.

Despite obvious income inequality in the state (California has the largest population of unsheltered individuals in the nation) and high cost of living (also the highest), the average Californian is probably better situated financially than an average person a few states over.

The state’s resources could also play a role, Changing America said.

Sunny and warm weather are in abundance in California, and both have been linked to overall health and happiness.

And because the state doesn’t experience as much seasonal shifts as other parts of the U.S., many Californians have better access to the outdoors year-round which, in turn, allows for residents to meet physical activity recommendations at a higher level than the national average.

“There is a connection between being outdoors, being connected to nature and happiness,” said Scott Glassman, director of the master of applied positive psychology program and clinical associate professor at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Glassman said that connection to nature, as well as both financial stability and abundance of resources, have been shown to have impacts on overall happiness.

Gianna Melillo of Changing America contributed to this report.