Where People Are Living Their Best Possible Lives

By Ari Pinkus

Schools keep trying to get a handle on it; workplaces are carving out time to address it; meanwhile, myriad media are filled with advice to help people with it. The issue is wellness, and the community where you live seems to play a big role in how it looks to you.

The Well-Being Index from Gallup and Sharecare “measures Americans’ perceptions of their lives and their daily experiences through five interrelated elements that make up well-being: sense of purpose, social relationships, financial security, relationship to community, and physical health,” according to the website.

The American Communities Project sheds light on Gallup-Sharecare’s well-being survey in new ways and shows how people’s perceptions of their lives today and their expectations for the future often vary by where they live.

First, consider how Americans across the ACP’s 15 types view their lives today. On average, 11.1 percent say they are living their “best possible” lives, according to a recent Gallup-Sharecare survey.

But just where are people living their best lives?

Community Well-Being  

In the African American South – the least wealthy of the 15 community types with a median household income of just $35,561 – the percentage of people who say they’re living their best possible lives reaches 14.3 percent. This community type is marked by a diverse population. African Americans compose 40 percent of these communities, and few Hispanics live here.

Hispanic Centers, places where Hispanics make up 56 percent of the population on average and the median annual income is about $42,000, 13.6 percent report that they are living the best lives possible. These communities are often seen as the epicenter of today’s immigration flash points, but at the same time, many are coming to the United States for a better life for themselves and their families. It’s worth noting that Hispanic Centers also skew younger, with 30 percent of the population under 18, which could lead to a more hopeful disposition.

In more homogenous Evangelical Hubs in the South, where 85 percent of the population is white, the numbers also sites above the national average with 13.1 percent say they are living their best possible lives. Again, that’s despite some socio-economic challenges in these places. The median income in them is $39,000, and just 15 percent have at least a bachelor’s degree.

The numbers are a bit lower in Rural Middle America, where 10.5 percent report they are now living the best possible life they can. That may be a bit surprising considering some of the other factors that define that broad swath of counties that stretches from Maine to Washington state.

Although the median household income and college education rate in those counties sits above those of the Evangelical Hubs, Hispanic Centers, African American South, that does not yield a better wellness figure.

And the number for Rural Middle America is largely on par with a couple of much more densely populated and diverse community types: the Big Cities and Urban Suburbs (the wealthiest of the types with a median income of $66,500), where 10.8 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively, say they’re living their best possible lives now. In both those communities, the desire to keep up with more affluent neighbors and friends may push that number lower than for other groups.

Yet it’s the LDS Enclaves (where 31 percent are under 18) and the Middle Suburbs (concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest and 87 percent white) that have the lowest percentages at 9.6 and 9.8 percent, respectively. The Middle Suburbs, in particular, have been more stagnant than the Urban Suburbs and Exurbs and have felt the effects of cumulative layoffs in a variety of industries.

You can see a map of the types here:

In Many Places, the Future Looks Bright

Overall, the survey found that people feel much more optimistic about their futures. Across America, an average of 26 percent believe they will be living their best possible lives five years from now. In several kinds of places, people are feeling particularly positive. Take the African American South, where 31.5 percent say they expect to experience their best possible lives five years hence.

In Hispanic Centers, that number is 30 percent. Striving for a better life may be one reason for this strong showing. Hispanics are also known for having close-knit families and communities. These social relationships and ties to community are crucial to well-being and can boost their expectations for living their best lives.

In the affluent Urban Suburbs, 26.3 percent say they expect to live their best possible lives in five years. Big Cities come in at 28.4 percent. Both the Urban Suburbs and Big Cities are more racially and economically diverse than other community types; tensions often flare as seen in recent years. Also, people here will likely want to maintain, or even surpass, their current standard of living — and may feel the pressure of higher expectations that comes with living near more wealth.

Room to Improve

It may come as a surprise that the picture looks a little bleaker in the College Towns. Located near colleges and universities, these places are second from the bottom of the 15 community types, with 21.2 percent believing they will live their best possible lives in five years. Some may scratch their heads because such places are home to high percentages of youth and college graduates and widely considered bastions of idealism and possibility.

But along with that potentially brighter future in the long run, many unsettling changes are occurring here: the high cost and questionable value of college; seismic demographic shifts spurring new divisions on campus; wellness concerns about sexual assault, depression, drugs, and screen time; and fears about artificial intelligence in the workplace. It will be important to keep an eye on this group’s well-being, as these counties are the home of the nation’s future economic and cultural leaders. Such gloomy views from these communities may not be a good sign for the years ahead.

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