Science Says Americans Are Happier in States That Invest in These Things

"Parks and Rec" is not just the name of a beloved TV show!

Glacier National Park White Christmas in America

When we consider the features that make living in some states much better than others, we often discuss the cost of living verses the average salary, the nightlife, the crime rate, and the healthcare provided. But, according to a new study published in the journal Social Science Research, the states in which residents are happiest are the ones that spend the most money on pubic goods such as libraries, parks, highways, natural resources, and police protection.

The study analyzed data on respondents' self-reported levels of happiness for 1976-2006 from the nationally-representative General Social Survey—along with government spending data for states from the U.S. Census Bureau for 1976-2006. The researchers found that, accounting for all other factors, the happiest citizens resided in states that used tax-payer money to enhance their day-to-day lives.

"If roads are completed and kept up, so that people aren't stuck in traffic, they have more time to do things they enjoy doing,"  Patrick Flavin, Ph.D., associate professor of political science in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences and the author of the study said. "Large parks are social spaces—and one clear finding of happiness studies is that people who are more socially connected tend to be happier."

One big reason for this is that public goods benefit everyone—regardless of socio-economic background.

"Public goods are things you can't exclude people from using—and one person using them doesn't stop another from doing so," Flavin said. "They're typically not profitable to produce in the private market, so if the government doesn't provide them, they will either be under-provided or not at all."

As such, these public goods tend to transcend issues of class, race, ethnicity, or politics.

"Compared to a lot of the other government spending, public goods tend to be less controversial between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, compared to poverty assistance or unemployment benefits, where there is definite disagreement between political parties," Flavin said. "I think there is less political conflict over public goods spending simply because if the government doesn't provide them, they won't be provided at all."

As with many studies, it's important to remember that correlation does not equal causation.

"It could be that happier citizens self-select by moving to states that spend comparatively more on public goods," Flavin said. "It also is possible that happier citizens support higher spending on public goods and elect state officials to deliver on that policy."

But it's an enlightening discovery, as well as a timely one, given that President Donald Trump is constantly proposing budget cuts that would significantly affect American's national parks.

Are you contemplating a move? Then check out the U.S. States Where People Live the Longest!

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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