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Most of us prefer to live on the sunny side — or at least vacation there. But where are the happiest of the happy cities? A Gallup survey suggests that, with a few exceptions, the happiest residents dwell in midsize cities — that is, big enough to avoid boredom, yet small enough to feel like a real community (and actually find parking when you need it). Here's a sampling of the happiest cities in America, where overall well-being is the overriding vibe.
1. Boulder, Colorado
Ranked first among midsize cities in the Gallup survey, Boulder has a reputation for being a laid-back, healthy-living place. Its location in the Rocky Mountains, just northwest of Denver, gives it a unique natural beauty and tons of outdoor recreation opportunities. In the 1960s, it was something of a hippie enclave, and that liberal mindset lives on. One of the happiest cities in America is also one of the "brainiest" thanks to the huge University of Colorado campus. In other words, smart people who hang around other smart people make for a pretty happy city.
2. San Jose, California
A short drive south of San Francisco, scenic San Jose beckons as a pleasantly livable haven on the edge of San Francisco Bay. It has all the mountainous beauty and palm trees of California, without the urban hubbub of its neighbor to the north, factors that have put San Jose near the top of every quality-of-life survey in recent memory. Perhaps it's the sunny, temperate climate (from 41 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit on average) or the potent economy (it's known as the capital of Silicon Valley). Either way, you'll find that the friendly locals here dwell in the land of high spirits.
3. Seattle, Washington
Fresh air, a temperate climate and bright evergreens are keys to happy living in this Pacific Northwest metropolis. It's true, the Emerald City has its fair share of overcast days. But that just makes the magnificent sunny days that much sweeter. And the economy stays strong with big names like Amazon, Starbucks and Microsoft headquartered here. All that flowing dough, combined with produce from surrounding farmland and seafood from Puget Sound, have helped build strong arts and culinary scenes — and, of course, the music scene is as rockin' as ever.
4. Madison, Wisconsin
Another bastion of cool-headed liberal types, this Midwestern capital city attracts a jovial mix of academics to its huge University of Wisconsin campus and its strong medical community. Together they make for robust employment, especially for a city fairly modest in size. The happy people of Madison appreciate their great bike-lane network, live music and performing arts scenes, and exceptional architecture — even beyond the beautiful legacies of childhood native Frank Lloyd Wright.
5. Honolulu, Hawaii
It's hard to argue with nearly 300 sunny days a year, and, in Honolulu, they're too happy to argue anyway. Covering the southwest coast of Oahu, this capital city is filled with smiling people who proudly wear shorts and sandals virtually all year long. Downtown skyscrapers and a $10 billion annual tourism industry underscore the city's strength as both a mid-ocean trading hub and an appealing destination. After all, in Honolulu, "aloha" — which translates to a slew of pleasant terms from "greetings" to "remember with affection" — is a way of life.