We All Want to be Happy, but How Much Does Location Matter?
It's time for a little fortune cookie wisdom: Happiness isn't always where you think it will be. Want proof? WalletHub's annual "Happiest Cities in America" survey says the cheeriest place to live is Fremont, CA.
Who woulda guessed?
To come to these conclusions, WalletHub examined data for more than 180 of the largest U.S. cities, comparing 28 "happiness indicators," including low depression and divorce rates, amount of leisure time, and income growth. (Keep in mind, however, that research shows that incomes beyond $75,000 won't make you any happier.)
Based on these variables, Northern California's Fremont won top honors as the City of Bliss. Only why?
Some say it's because Fremont is close—but not too close—to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, areas that are teeming with job opportunities (which make people happy) but cursed with ridiculously high real estate prices (which make people sad, mad, or otherwise annoyed).
According to realtor.com®/local, the median price of a home in San Francisco is $1.3 million, which boils down to an eye-watering $911 per square foot.
In Fremont, the median home sales price is still high, at $1.1 million, but that breaks down to $611 per square foot. So, home buyers here are getting a whole lot more for their money.
"Fremont is shielded enough from the San Francisco madness that it still presents value," says Richard Murdocco, adjunct professor in the public policy graduate program at Stony Brook University in New York.
"And lower real estate prices affect people's perceptions. When people feel they're getting more for their money, happiness goes up," says Murdocco, who writes "The Foggiest Idea," an award-winning column on real estate.
"Fremont is a more affordable city in the [San Francisco] Bay Area compared to other towns in the vicinity, yet is well-positioned to take advantage of all the area offers with an abundance of tech-related job opportunities as well as culture and lifestyle," says California-licensed real estate agent Cara Ameer.
Even those who don't want that hour-long commute to Silicon Valley have options closer to home: "Tesla and Kaiser Permanente are two of Fremont's top 10 employers," Ameer adds.
As if great jobs and affordable housing weren't enough, Fremont also boasts fantastic weather, which breeds a sunnier disposition.
"Sunlight and temperature are proven to have an impact on human emotions," says RentHop analyst Shane Lee. "Based on the list, it seems that many of the cities with nice weather are ranked higher. Eight out of the top 20 cities on this list are in California, for instance."
Still, though, not just one, but two chilly cities in North Dakota also made the top 10: Bismarck and Fargo.
"This indicates that the happiest cities are not always the most obvious choices," says Ameer. "Bismarck and Fargo may be hidden gems, which have quietly boomed as a result of the oil and gas industry there. Plus you've got the gorgeous landscapes with big skies and mountains."
And rock-bottom real estate prices: The median listing in Bismarck goes for a mere $260,000, or $128 per square foot. Fargo's even cheaper, with a median list price of $230,000, or $107 per square foot. Talk about a deal!
"This makes them ideal locations for those willing to think outside the box," says Ameer. "Like the gold rush that brought so many to California, people are always attracted to where opportunity reigns supreme."
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