If you could live anywhere in the U.S., which state would most improve your day-to-day life?
At a time when many markers of quality of life in America — like average life expectancy and mobility — are on the decline, these are the states where the natural and social environments are the best, according to rankings from U.S. News and World Report.
The annual list uses a combination of factors, such as natural beauty, air and water quality, chemical pollution, social support, and community engagement to determine which states best foster a high level of wellbeing for their residents.
North Dakota comes in at number one in the 2018 rankings. The state’s natural beauty and intimate rural communities give it an edge.
“The number one indicator of success in life and having a fulfilling, satisfying life is the quality of your relationships,” Sarah Stiles, a sociology professor at Georgetown University, told U.S. News “We are social animals, and we don’t do well when we don’t have community connections.”
With about 755,000 North Dakotans, the state is one of the least populous in America. Only Wyoming, Vermont, and Alaska have fewer residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
It’s a place where people can “be a part of the community and make a difference,” said North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.
The importance of personal connections is clear: All of the top 10 states this year have large rural populations rather than crowded urban centers.
Minnesota came in second, followed by Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and South Dakota. These states, along with North Dakota, share colder climates that create tighter-knit communities.
“If you’re in a closed environment, you’re interacting with more people,” Justin Berg, an associate sociology professor at the University of North Dakota, told U.S. News. “And then there’s this cultural aspect that you’re in an environment that’s weather-wise a little more difficult so you do have this idea to help your neighbor out when times are tough.”
The rest of the top 10 includes Mississippi, Arkansas, New Mexico, Iowa, and Colorado.
Texas, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, and California round out the bottom five, all with high population densities.