The lighter side of real estate

These Are The 10 Happiest Small Cities In America

Looking for something to smile about today? You’re probably already grinning ear to ear if you live in one of the happiest cities in America

Laura Allan

112 articles, 1 comments

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Some places have make it their nature to avoid bad days, and are doing a pretty great job of it. Where are these happiest places in the land? No, we’re not talking about Disneyland. We’re talking about the happiest small cities in America.

Here at the Movoto Real Estate Blog, we try to make sure people looking for a new home are happy, and what better way than feeling that small town love? We did some research, and were pretty pleased to find that there are 10 places that just know how to do the happy thing better than others.

These were the 10 smiliest small spots in the nation:

1. Municipality of State College, PA
2. City of East Lansing, MI
3. City of Corvallis, OR
4. Town of Blacksburg, VA
5. Town of Normal, IL
6. City of Manhattan, KS
7. City of Ames, IA
8. City of Royal Oak, MI
9. City of Burlington, VT
10. City of Stillwater, OK

Now wipe that frown off your face if you don’t see your hometown up there. You can check out the 50 happiest places that we looked at in the chart at the bottom of this article.

Just in case you’re curious about how we calculated all this, we’d be happy to tell you all about it. In fact, you can see our criteria and methods in the very next section.

Our Methodology

In order to spread a little sunshine to the already pretty happy places in our Big Deal List, we turned to the magic of numbers.

First, we made a list of all the places in the U.S. that were between 61,000 and 40,000 people in size. Using sources like the 1010 U.S. Census, the 2012 FBI /Uniform Crime Report, and, we collected data in seven different joy-inducing criteria:

  • Stress factors (including unemployment, commutes, and cost of living)
  • Personal safety (violent crimes per 100,000 people)
  • Percent of residents making greater than $25,000/year
  • Percent of married residents
  • Home ownership
  • Percent of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • Walkability score

We omitted any places that didn’t have data, which left us with a total of 391 different places. Then, we ranked each place in each category from one to 391, with scores closer to one being better.

Finally, we averaged each place’s rankings into one Big Deal Score, with lower numbered scores being happier. All of that came out to State College, PA being the happiest little place around.

Of course, there’s more to happiness than just cold, hard data, right? Let’s take a closer look at each of our top places, and see just why they smile brighter and laugh louder than the rest.

1. State College, PA

Happiest Small Places

Source: Flickr user Tony Cheng

While college might make you think of finals week and a ton of homework, this place is actually known as The Happy Valley by many locals.

Why? For starters, Psychology Today ranked this little Pennsylvania locale as one of the least stressful places in the United States. That’s certainly something to feel glad about.

Our numbers pretty much back up that low-stress environment, too. Only about 12 percent of folks here made below $25,000 a year, and the highest percent of people owned their homes rather than renting.

The commute was the fifth lowest, the married percent of people ranked 22nd. Even the walkability here was No. 19 on our list.

In fact, the only area where State College wasn’t in the top third of scores was in percent of people with at least a Bachelor’s degree.

To be fair, though, Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) is partially in this city, where most people are simply in the process of getting their degree, so these folks are probably more educated than this number shows.

2. East Lansing, MI

Happiest Small Places

Source: Flickr user David Giard

This is yet another college town on our list, and you can bet that it won’t be the last.

Just by the numbers, you can see what this place has to be happy about. The second fewest people had an income of under $25,000, the homeownership ranked ninth, almost 69 percent of people were married, and the stress factors were low enough to rank 44th out of 391.

Going beyond the numbers, this home to Michigan State University offers a variety of things to do. The crime was fairly low, and the city was somewhat walkable, so wandering and taking in a lovely summer day won’t be much of a problem. You could also take in a show from the summer concert series, which lasts from mid June till early August.

Foodies will probably find themselves overjoyed to call this place home as well. Between divine sushi at Sansu, near perfect burgers at Crunchy’s, and chocolate cheese at the MSU Dairy store, it’s kind of hard to go wrong.

3. Corvallis, OR

Happiest Small Places

Source: Flickr user gregkeene

One of the only West Coast locations in our top 50, Corvallis locals have got a lot to be joyful about.

Whether it’s the low violent crime, the high income, the 39th lowest stress factors rank, or just the buzz of bright young minds at Oregon State University, you’d be hard pressed to find something to frown about.

If you’re into arts and culture, you’re going to love it here. This place is home to the Da Vinci Days festival and the Corvallis Fall Festival Annual Arts Party, as well as a number of fascinating museums and art galleries.

If you’re not into that stuff, that’s fine too. There’s plenty other cool stuff going on to cheer you up. For example, what makes people happier than ice cream, right? How about the delectable creations over at Francesco’s Gelato, then? Apparently you simply have to try the honey almond.

4. Blacksburg, VA

Happiest Small Places

Source: Flickr user Barbara Hobbs

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that this is home to yet another fantastic college: Virginia Tech. From their stellar theater department to their often triumphant sports teams, Blacksburg gives local a lot to be thankful and smiley about.

Of course, there are some pretty outstanding rankings as well. The third highest percent of people with incomes above $25,000, the 12th highest marriage rank, and the 10th highest home ownership are only a few of the major perks. The most impressive is the 17th lowest violent crime on our list, the lowest violent crime in our top 10.

If you need something to laugh about, and maybe occasionally cry about, you can take in a show at the Lyric Theater, which is a pretty unique and classic experience. Of course, if you just want to spend a few bucks and satisfy your sweet tooth, there’s also Carol Lee Donuts.

5. Normal, IL

Happiest Small Places

Source: Flickr user Doug Pieper

There’s nothing normal about the happiness in this Illinois town, considering it’s practically through the roof. And with high income, home ownership, and marriage rates, can you really blame them?

The crime here even ranked in the top third of our rankings, for a lack of violence, so locals can breathe easy.

One of the real standout scores here was the low stress factors, ranking No. 48 on our list our of 391. This place had the 15th lowest commute times, and one of the lower costs of living in our top 10. Yet another reason for locals to relax.

Did we mention that this place is yet another college town, home to both the main campus of Illinois State University and Heartland Community College? Yeah, there’s that too, so it’s easy to be happy here as long as it’s not finals week.

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6. Manhattan, KS

Happiest Small Places

Source: Flickr user Jeff Croft

Speaking of stress free environments, let’s take a little look at our Kansas representative: Manhattan.

The “Little Apple” had the fourth lowest stress factors on our list, as well as high income, high marriage rate, and the 59th highest home ownership. It was also, you guessed it, home to a college: none other than Kansas State University. Beginning to see a trend here?

Of course, there was more to happiness here than just studying hard. Forbes rated Manhattan the Best Small Community for a Business and Career, and Money magazine ranked it one of the best places to retire young. We’d guess stress free environments and high income probably had something to do with that.

But when you’re not working, what can you do to stay cheery in your downtime? Not a problem here, seeing as this place has spots like Rock-A-Belly Bar & Deli and Auntie Mae’s Parlor for all sorts of folks to unwind at.

7. Ames, IA

Happiest Small Places

Source: Flickr user Austin Howard

The city slogan of “Smart Choice” definitely rings true for anyone looking to elevate their mood a bit in Iowa. And yes, before you ask, this place does have a college: Iowa State University of Science and Technology.

If you’re looking for variety, there’s so much to choose from. There’s Chocolaterie Stam for your sweet tooth, Reiman Gardens for nature lovers, and Welch Ave Station for those who like to stay up late. Of course, you can’t go wrong heading back to The Café over and over, considering that their menu changes with the seasons.

The real proof of this place’s awesome comes with the numbers. Ames had the 19th lowest stress factor ranking, high income, high marriage rate, and even a well-ranked home ownership. So yes, this is definitely an all around smart choice.

8. Royal Oak

Happiest Small Places

Source: Flickr user Thomas Hawk

The second Michigan representative on our list, Royal Oak locals are probably proud and not too surprised to see their city in the tip 10.

Why? Well, besides the Detroit Zoo, the motorcycle rallies, and multitude of yearly festivals, this place also had some pretty happy numbers across the board.

Royal Oak had low stress factors, one of the better safety ranking on our list for low violent crime, and a decent median income. Further more, this place had a decent marriage rank and a decent walkability score, so enjoying a stroll in the lovely small-city atmosphere is an easy feat.

One of the big standouts here was the education, with 64 percent of the population having at least a bachelor’s degree. This is also one of the few places on our list that wasn’t home to a major college, so there’s no need to freak out about tests and homework in this homey little city.

9. Burlington, VT

Happiest Small Places

Source: Flickr user John Wiechecki

Though this place was small by the rest of the states’ standards, Burlington is actually the largest city in Vermont. Still, all that means is that this place has small-town pride and love, but a whole lot to do for fun.

There’s Dobra Tea for the mornings, Church Street Marketplace for all your shopping needs, and a stellar farmers market to stroll through. And, just to be clear, this was definitely a college town, considering it was home to The University of Vermont, Burlington College, and Champlain College.

Though numbers aren’t quite as fun, it’s definitely worth mentioning that this place had the eighth lowest percent of people who made below $25,000, as well as a solid walkability score, and a very decent safety score. Even the home ownership and marriage rates were high here.

10. Stillwater, OK

Happiest Small Places

Source: Flickr user Richard Threlkeld

“Stilly” may be 10th on our list, but it’s definitely one of the best if you want to get your grin on.

For one thing, there’s no need to worry around these parts, considering the commute times, cost of living, and unemployment were all very low, giving this place the seventh lowest stress factors. The high income here didn’t exactly hurt either.

In general, this place fared pretty well. The marriage rates were high, the home ownership ranked 18th, and even the violent crime was fairly low. On top of all that, Stillwater was home to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum, which is a pretty unique and fun attraction.

Still, maybe that’s not quite your cup of tea. Maybe get an actual cup at Blue Spruce then? No? Well, if you’re perhaps the more lively sort, you can find a new reason to celebrate by watching a great band at The Stonewall Tavern.

Give A Smile, And You’ll Get A Smile

Well, at least in these fine places. Pretty fair trade though, we’d say.

If where you live is making you frown, you can always check to see what’s available in any of these areas by clicking the links near the top of the article. Maybe you’ll find something that’ll cheer you up.

If you already live in one of these great spots? Well then you’re already cheery, most likely. Just remember to pass the good vibes along, because a great attitude is definitely a gift that keeps on giving.

(click to enlarge table)

Happiest Small Cities In America

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posted on: September 1, 2014
241,727 views, 4 comments


  1. zachary schneider

    Your “methodology”, or standards for happiness arr based on complete bullshit. Your income, monogomy, college degree, or cost of living have apsolutely nothing to do with quality of life or “happiness”. Whoever wrote this article needs to wake the fuck up and stop propogating this shit.

  2. Oliver Nguyen

    How are none of the west coast cities on this list? The writer is obviously biased and has not visited any small cities on the west.

  3. Lev Raphael

    This article is off kilter. I live right near East Lansing and it’s a lovely college town. It’s more walkable than the article says and the campus is stunning. It is not, however, remotely a foodie haven. How can anyone call it that because of chocolate cheese, sushi and burgers? If that’s all it takes, then the standards are extremely low.

  4. Ed

    Great article, enjoyed Reading it. I don’t live in the top 10, nor do I live in a town with 40 or more thousand people so I could not make the list. However I am quite happy in my little town of 2500 people. I think you can be happy anywhere you are even unemployed and or homeless. Although I would prefer to see no one homeless or unemployed, this is the life we live. I think you can be happy simply because you find your happiness not in your circumstances but in who you are and your relationship with Jesus Christ. If your happiness is in Christ you can be happy anywhere, even if you have a minimum wage job or a really good paying job that you not necessarily happy with. Find happiness in Christ not in your circumstances and you can be happy anywhere even in Nokomis Illinois, 2500 people, no McDonald’s restaurant, no theater, just a small town full of good people.


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