Last week, the National Journal ran the latest in a series of pieces from a number of different outlets listing the Mountain State as the most depressed, least happy, generally completely bummed out state in America.
Some of this comes from the general problems West Virginia shares with many areas. Unemployment, uncertainty about the future, a federal government contriving night and day to zap productive coal mines and farms from existence.
But others come from cultural misunderstandings. Lifestyle choices, such as eating, drinking, and smoking, have little to do with actual happiness. Yet physical health is factored into "happiness" analysis. It is just as likely, if not more so, that West Virginians and others are not as hung up on obesity as those who live in the suburbs and write for National Journal. West Virginians have a healthier and more realistic appraisal of body image and a lot of other things.
Cultural differences matter. Appraising happiness in every state by the same criteria is a basic flaw in every such study. Like when Vermont researchers concluded Texans are the least happy because they swear a lot in social media. More often, the Texan is unhappy if he is not swearing.
Anyway, some reasons why West Virginia is the happiest state.
Centennial Golden Trout
The streets are not paved with gold. You can't even dig it out of the ground. But you can catch a real live slice of gold, or several other tasty species of fish, from most of the state's beautiful streams.
Make a Joyful Noise . . .
Almost every town of any size has a festival between March and November. Pictured here is some joyful noise being made at the Augusta festival in Elkins. One can also get joyful food, joyfully noisy parades, joyful boat races, joyful buckwheat cakes, and joyful crafts at one or more of these fun community get togethers.
. . . and, of course, patriotic
West Virginia has the largest small town 4th of July celebration in the world centered in Ripley. It stands to reason that the Mountain State loves America. It sends more men and women per capita into the U. S. armed forces than any other state.
West Virginia's near nationally low levels of property and violent crime co exist with near nationally high levels of gun ownership. Hmmmmmm.
West Virginia usually tops out lists of least healthy eaters, most overweight people. That is not indicative of happiness outside of narrow classes of people who fret about their weight. No study has been done, but West Virginians have a different ideal of body image and physical attractiveness than those who make up these studies. Mountain State women tend to prefer bigger men and men prefer curvier women.
Look at the culture. Cultural influences of West Virginia come from the American frontier, as well as German and Italian peasants. Without stacks of cash lying about to pay for more refined diversions, most people entertained themselves and others with food. Frontier people, Germans, and Italians know, if nothing else, how to turn a little into a lot. Those cultural ideals of entertainment and hospitality have come down to the 21st century.
And, finally, West Virginia makes some of the best victuals around. Charleston and its suburbs are a breakfast mecca, sporting Tudor's and Shoney's. Northern West Virginia and Keyser's Italian fare rivals any city in the nation for taste and beats nearly all for affordability.
This is why country people don't always eat right or look like stick figures.
The boys of fall (and winter, spring, and summer!)
Everything from pee wee football and T ball to major college football at two ends of the state. Winning makes us happy. Even in losses, we can be proud of their hard work and effort.
Water, water, everywhere . . .
Most people love to be on the water. Fishing, swimming, sitting on a boat, running a jet ski way too fast. Everyone loves something a little different about the water. In West Virginia, unless you want salt water, you're in luck. Rushing shallow rivers, placid lakes, rivers long and deep enough for afternoon cruises, the Mountain State can make any fresh water aficionado happy!
History class is open
No one claims to like history class, but most people love history in some way. West Virginia has historical sites that are entertaining and informative. Above is Harpers Ferry, set in the drop dead beautiful confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. Everything in town, except automobiles, electric, and the US 340 bridge, looks like it did in 1859 when John Brown launched his raid. The state also has museums, cultural centers, replicas of forts built over 200 years ago and more.
Inside and out, one of the most beautiful buildings you will ever see, Forget the shenanigans that happen inside of it for a moment and consider just what a marvel it is.
And finally this little guy
He is wondering why anyone would think that a state that he represents would be the most bummed out.