Skip to content

Understanding well-being

From America’s Health Insurance Plans:

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a unique twenty-five year partnership in research and care, is an on-going daily survey that began in January 2008. It surveys 1,000 Americans 350 days per year.

The research and methodology underlying the Well-Being Index is based on the World Health Organization definition of health as “not only the absence of infirmity and disease, but also a state of physical, mental, and social well-being.”

While I can’t really say what “1000 people 350 days per year” really means, here’s a nice map of the aggregate measure of well-being (if you click on it, you will get a slightly larger version):


It’s an interesting dataset and it would be interesting to see some analysis about the factors associated with well-being. If you do it using the tables that are available from the site, post a comment, and I’ll add it to the entry later on.

As for the visualization – I would have preferred a continuous color scale, rather than having it collapsed into just 5 levels. Also, the boundaries between districts only have to be drawn when the color for both districts is the same (quite rarely, if you follow the advice from the previous sentence) and when there is no other border closer than n pixels (because the boundaries are less important than the colors indicating the variable of interest).


  1. conchis says:

    Map with a more finely grained color scale here:

  2. derek says:

    Five levels is fine for me, but oh, the colors! The best is green, and the worst is a sort of khaki green? What the heck?

  3. SolarGuy says:

    the more popular states are even better at well being.. just wondering how the government would take measures to improve this condition

  4. yolio says:

    Eyeballing, it seems like in the west that high well being corresponds to areas with either high cost of living or high levels of religiousness (catholic in NM, mormon in UT and evangelical in CO).

    In the east, something entirely different seems to be happening. For one thing, it appears that well being is lower overall. New England might resemble the west pattern of high income/high wellbeing. But the counties are all so tiny, it is harder to make sense of it.

  5. Ben says:

    AP assumes that 1000 people in 350 days 350,000 different people.

  6. dcm says:

    Sure, there's a definite relationship between household income and well-being: One's existence is clearly nicer in the affluent suburbs of a metropolitan area than in rural Appalachia. But some of the outliers are interesting.

    Look at Utah: it's not necessarily clean living or religiosity per se. UT's 3rd district is the youngest in the country and overwhelmingly white in addition to being solidly middle class. These demographic factors would tend to put them a little higher in the rankings than their median income alone would suggest. Their relative youth probably has something to do with the amount of children a Mormon family might have, but the outcome – healthier people – is probably just attributable to less wear and tear on the organism and not public health policy or personal habits.

  7. Andrew A says:

    1000 people 365 days a year is confusing to me too. Are they interviewing the same people each day? If so, why would you bother with a chart like the one above. It might be interesting to see how well off a small cross section of America is, but geographically does it make any sense? Like how many people are represented in Nevada or Montana to make that colour meaningful?

  8. Isaac says:

    I work with someone who is colorblind, and I didn't know about it until I presented him with a map and asked him if the color scheme made sense, he said he couldn't tell the difference between red and green (I think). Anyway, after some discussion, he said just using a grayscale is the easiest to read, and I've come to agree. Looking at this map, it makes me wonder if I'm colorblind!

  9. anon says:

    How can Utah be in the top fifth for wellness when they have one of the highest rates of depression?

    Self-reporting => bias

    After all, Mormons are under a lot of pressure to say that everything is fine. When in fact, many many Mormons are underwater on their houses, with more financial troubles to come. I do not think that the Prozac capital of North America is the poster child for total wellness.