That‘s the finding of a new paper by Stephen Wu and Andrew Oswald.
You might object that this tells us more about people than about states. Older people are happier than middle-aged ones, educated ones happier than less educated, and whites are happier than blacks. However, the authors control for these things.
The differences between states are large. The numbers suggest that moving to Louisiana and from West Virginia is similar to moving from an income of $35-50,000 to one of $50-75,000.
What’s more, there’s no statistically significant link between a state’s GDP per capita and its happiness.
These differences raise a puzzle. Why is it that, in a nation whose people are famously mobile, are differences not eroded by market forces? In theory, if a particular state offers worse amenities - climate, congestion, whatever - people would tend to emigrate, which in turn would bid up wages to compensate for the disamenities. Across states, there should be compensating advantages.
But this doesn’t seem to happen - perhaps because people are poor predictors (pdf) of future tastes, and so mistakenly move to higher-income, lower-well-being states.
Nothing in Louisiana, it seems, can offset the fact that it is home to much of the world’s greatest music.