Anchorage happiness rating receives mixed reaction

According to the National Geographic Gallup Special Index, Boulder, Colorado is the happiest place in the U.S.; Anchorage placed 10th.

The highest-ranked cities are generally found in the West or in proximity to the coast, and the majority of them have warmer climates. Anchorage seems to be an exception to that rule.

Jakob Whitt, a biological sciences major, described the results as “definitely interesting, but not entirely surprising.”

Originally from the South, Whitt expected to find Alaskan culture inherently different from the Lower 48, but was pleasantly surprised of the state when he first arrived.

“Anchorage is a cozy mix of West Coast and country culture,” Whitt said. “So far, I enjoy Anchorage immensely.”

In contrast to Whitt, who has lived in Oklahoma, Oregon, California and Washington, English major Jennifer Lincoln was born and raised in Alaska. Anchorage placing among the top-10 happiest cities was not a result she would have predicted.

“I am kind of surprised [by the results], mostly because we also have a very high rate of depression here,” Lincoln said.

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Photo credit: Jian Bautista

In her opinion, the way the data was collected might have affected the results of the research.

“When you put people on the spot like that they might be like ‘Oh yeah, I’m really happy,’ but maybe they don’t really mean it,” Lincoln said.

The Gallup Special Index is based on the perceptions of adult citizens. Participating individuals were asked to rate their well-being on a scale from one to 100 for 15 different metrics indicating happiness — from eating healthy to civic engagement, financial security, vacation time and even dental checkups.

The data the National Geographic article draws on was collected from 2014 to 2015 in 190 metropolitan areas across the United States.

Automotive technology major Hans Windahl moved to Anchorage this summer. He lived in Minnesota for 19 years and spent four years moving back and forth between Asia and California. He was surprised by the results of the article at first, but following his initial astonishment, he reconsidered his position.

“After giving it some thought, I’d say that Anchorage being the 10th-happiest city isn’t too surprising, considering a number of things available to you in the city and outside of it,” Windahl said. “Anchorage has good food and some fun activities in the city itself… Activities to do outdoors are only a short drive away.”

The experiences he made with the people in Anchorage and in the other states confirmed his view.

“People living in Anchorage are generally pretty happy and approachable. When I was living in California, people were a little more [separated in] cliques and not as friendly,” Whindahl said.

The National Geographic article named Alaska’s natural amenities as possible reasons for the city’s high ranking in the poll. Anchorage is located in proximity to five different national parks and experiences long hours of daylight during the summer.

What the article does not mention, however, are the long Alaskan winters. Throughout December, the sun only rises for about six hours or less in Anchorage. On the day of winter solstice, the day length amounts to five hours and 28 minutes.

Windahl believes that there are seasonal variations in the general happiness of the Anchorage community.

“The seasons affect people’s mood here for sure,” Windahl said. “Nobody really enjoys only seeing the sun for a few hours a day in winter.”

Grace Gannon, a freshman psychology major, holds an opinion similar to Windahl’s about the influence of the sunlight on the people.

“In the winter it gets so dark up here and I feel like it’s easy to get depressed if you’re not doing anything,” Gannon said.

She was somewhat surprised about her hometown’s high ranking in the poll considering the low amount of sunlight the city is getting in the harsher winter months.

Gannon thought some people might be less affected than others, “especially if you’re outside a lot during the winter and if you’re staying active. I guess it really depends on who you interview,” she said.

Gannon has lived in Anchorage her entire life and is not planning on leaving the 49th state after her graduation.

“I might go out of state to get my master’s degree, but I’m definitely planning on coming back,” Gannon said. “I love Alaska.”