Hey Hawaii, How Are You Feeling?

May, 2015

One of the most common questions we ask others is “How are you?” or “How do you feel?” Usually, the question is asked and answered reflexively – without thought or meaning, along the lines of  “Good. How about you?”

But if the question is asked by someone who truly cares about you, it is a wonderfully open question that can be answered with whatever is important to you at that moment: Your physical health, your emotional, psychological or spiritual condition, maybe how you feel about your children, job, relationships, even the meaning of your existence. It can get pretty deep.

Science is confirming something humans intuitively knew all along: All those things are connected. How you feel emotionally affects your physical health. Worried about money? That can make you sick. Depression is more than a state of mind; it is a medical condition of the brain.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index explores the connections between our physical, emotional and psychological conditions by asking specific questions to more than 175,000 Americans each year. And, every year, Hawaii collectively answers with enthusiasm, “I feel great!” – at least relative to the rest of the country.

The 2014 survey came out recently and Hawaii finished second best among the states. In the seven years that Gallup has conducted the survey, Hawaii has finished first overall in well-being four times and second twice. Our worst finish: eighth overall in 2013. No state comes close to our consistent record. In a separate 2014 ranking, urban Honolulu ranked second highest among 100 American communities.

The well-being survey has evolved over the years, but here are a few of the dozens of questions used in a past questionnaire that show the vast range of the survey and how it connects physical health with well-being on many levels:

Do you have any health problems that prevent you from doing any of the things people your age normally can do?

Think about yesterday, from the morning until the end of the day. Think about where you were, what you were doing, who you were with and how you felt. Were you treated with respect all day yesterday? Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday? Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?

Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your job or the work you do?

Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?

Gallup takes the answers and creates well-being categories. In 2014, Hawaii ranked first in two categories, physical and financial well-being, fifth in both purpose and community, and 28th in social. Were you as surprised as me that we ranked first in financial well-being even though we suffer from one of the nation’s highest costs of living? One reason may be this key question: Do you have enough money to do what you want to do? About 50 percent of Hawaii’s people  answered yes, compared to about 40 percent nationwide. Maybe that’s because what many people in Hawaii want to do has less to do with money and more to do with connecting with family, friends and nature.

Crucial to your well-being: Do you have enough money to do what you want to do?

Close to 80 percent of those surveyed in Hawaii said they like what they do every day; nationally, the figure was closer to 70 percent. We also did substantially better than the national average on “the city or area where I live is perfect for me.” On two key metrics, though, we were slightly below the national average: “I am encouraged by someone to be healthy” and “My physical health is nearly perfect.”

SMS, a local research firm, added to our understanding by asking further questions in its own survey, such as: Do you personally feel happier today than you did at this time a year ago? One in four responded they were not happier today. Those who tended to be less happy were Hawaii residents aged 50 or older, or those in middle-income households (earning a household income of $40,000 to $75,000 a year). SMS also asked if you felt better or worse off financially than a year ago. SMS was not surprised to find that the residents who felt less well off financially had a lot in common with those who didn’t feel happier.

So, how do you feel today?

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Steve Petranik