What makes our state a happy place?

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life and hurt mental health, with 4 in 10 adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression. While there’s been progress against the pandemic through vaccination, related stress remains a factor in the ongoing transition back to pre-pandemic life.

But depending on where you live, happiness can moderate or outweigh stress. And Washington is one of those places, according to a study that determined which states promote the most happiness in spite of COVID-19.

Previous studies have found that good economic, emotional, physical and social health are all key to a well-balanced and fulfilled life. In the latest study, WalletHub, an online consumer and financial service, drew upon the findings of “happiness” research of environmental factors that are linked to a person’s overall well-being and satisfaction with life. The 50 states were examined across key metrics, ranging from depression and positive COVID-19 testing rates to income growth and unemployment rates.

In the overall rankings, Washington weighed in as the 13th happiest state, behind (in order) Utah, Minnesota, Hawaii, California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont.

On individual factors that influence happiness, Washington scored average or better—much better than most other states in income growth (third-best), highest participation in sports (fourth), adequate sleep (eighth), and safety (11th).

In general, researchers say, happiness comes from a combination of internal and external factors. People can influence it by approaching situations with a positive outlook, spending time with other people they love, and having activities they enjoy.

Put another way, “we might need to take very conscious steps to regulate our worry and utilize interventions that can restore calmness and contentment. We also need meaningful and well-paying jobs, and welcoming and safe communities to support our psychological well-being,” said Meg Warren, a psychologist and associate professor at Western Washington University.

“With the protracted nature of this pandemic, which has only intensified stress for some who were already suffering, we’re becoming chronically anxious and chronically stressed,” Warren said. “Our feelings of anxiety and stress, as well as our responses to them, can become habits and take a toll on our health and well-being that can well outlast the pandemic. When things get better, our chronic habits of anxiety and worry may not automatically disappear completely.”