Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why I Choose to Live in One of the Saddest States In America

Act 205:  Home is where the heart is.  Start investing in it.

I have lived the majority of my life, for the last 22 years in a small town in the state of Kentucky.  I'm not a small town girl by definition, have lived in cites like Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC, and still occasionally need my big city fix.  Yet still I have chosen to make my home in a town of less than 13,000 that is considered "dry" (yes, that does indeed mean that alcohol sales are prohibited) and has been discussing the passage of a fairness ordinance for a good 3 years now (and yes, that does mean that there are no laws protecting the LGBT community from discrimination).   As if the jokes about fried chicken, questionable Senators, and backwards hillbillies (their words, definitely not mine) aren't enough, this year the Bluegrass state landed in the number 2 spot of the Saddest States in America Gallup Healthways Well-being Index poll.  So what gives?  Why has this multicultural, wine-drinking, some-of-my-best-friends-are-gay, city girl taken up permanent residence in a state where surveyed residents report poor emotional health, work environment, physical health, and access to basic needs of life?  

Simply put, I'm happy.  I live under the same roof as everyone I would easily give up my kidney for - my husband, my son, and my parents (who live in an apartment attached to our home).  I work in a job that gives me the opportunity to contribute in some meaningful way.  I am deeply engaged in my local community, and have been involved in changing some of those "less happy" things like passing a fairness ordinance....or being able to have a cold bottle of hard cider with my meal at the local pizzeria.  Most of my best friends live within a 2 hour drive from me.  My son is in kindergarten with children he's known since birth and who he will probably end up graduating from high school with.  Honestly, I could live in any of the 50 states in this country and still be happy if I had all of these factors going for me.

Listen, I know Kentucky is not perfect, but I dare say, neither is Hawaii (#1 happiest state). I've never been that girl who walks away from a jammed copier.  If residents of this great state are reporting that they aren't feeling the best physically and emotionally, that their work environment is not satisfactory, and that sometimes they lack access to basic needs in life - who am I to just get up and walk away from that?   It seems the happiest states are among the wealthiest, LEAST racially diverse states (except for maybe Hawaii), and you'd have to be an idiot not to make the connection between poverty and "well-being".  How easy would it be for the single mom with two jobs and no affordable childcare to fit in a gym membership and an hour a day to work towards her physical health?  Many of my friends who also choose to make Kentucky their home are working hard to change the answers that Kentucky residents have given to these questions from the Gallup poll:

Do you have health insurance coverage?
Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food?
Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have money to provide adequate shelter or housing for you and your family?

Don't get me started on the biases I suspect in the survey.  In gauging happiness, particularly in my home state of Kentucky, I'd also be interested in seeing questions like these:

Do you feel a part of your community?
Do you feel supported by your extended family?
In the last year have you grown or made something useful for your family?
Do you have positive interactions with people outside your race?
Do you feel supported by a community that shares your cultural and religious backgrounds?
Do you know local decision-makers and do you feel comfortable voicing your concerns to them?
Have you watched the sunset at least 100 times in the last year?
Do you feel connected to your heritage and ancestry?

While low BMI's, college educations, and high-paying jobs undoubtedly contribute to long-term economic stability, I dare say so do things like strong family relationships, sense of community, and connection to one's environment.  And that, my friends, is why I choose to be happy in one of the saddest states in the country  -because I can answer yes to every single one of these questions (of course I can't deny my privileged status - I can probably answer "yes" to most of the questions in the real poll as well).

Now can we pass the fairness ordinance already so I can go celebrate with a glass of wine?  Ah, still so much work to do, but I wouldn't have it any other way.  

I suspect that Hawaiians probably feel the same. 


  1. I love your additional survey questions! Great things to keep in mind when assessing one's own happiness--wherever on the planet we find ourselves!