Travel & Tourism

Are people really happy on the Mississippi Coast? Here’s a look at the data.

Lindsay Dengler of Gulfport and her son, William, 1, play with a balloon at the Mississippi Bicentennial South celebration at Centennial Plaza in Gulfport on Saturday, April 1, 2107. Well-being in South Mississippi was ranked in a new survey.
Lindsay Dengler of Gulfport and her son, William, 1, play with a balloon at the Mississippi Bicentennial South celebration at Centennial Plaza in Gulfport on Saturday, April 1, 2107. Well-being in South Mississippi was ranked in a new survey. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com file

Robert Turner just moved from Boulder, Colorado, the city with the third highest well-being ranking in the country in a new survey, to South Mississippi, which has the third lowest.

“It’s all a state of mind,” said Turner, the new information technology director for Harrison County. “Because people are happy out there,” he said of Colorado, “and people can be happy down here.”

The Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index ranks only Fort Smith in Arkansas-Oklahoma and Canton-Massillon in Ohio with a lower well-being score than the Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula area. It comes just a couple of weeks after U.S. News & World Report ranked Mississippi low in most every category but sixth-highest for quality of life.

Turner grew up in Mississippi and moved to the Coast to be near his sister, her husband and son.

People are indeed happy in Colorado, Turner said. “It’s just a whole state of mind up there,” he said, and people can bring that anywhere. He described how residents are fit and ride bicycles wherever they go in Boulder.

Salaries are higher in Colorado but the cost of living is much less in Gulfport, he said. A three-bedroom home that costs $1,500 a month in Colorado he said is less than $800 in South Mississippi.

The rankings show those who were interviewed are more positive about the community where they live on the Coast than how they are living, their finances and their health. At least 300 people in South Mississippi were interviewed by phone and asked how they feel about five areas of their life. The survey showed of the 186 cities, Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula was ranked:

▪ 186 or dead last for Financial Well-Being, which is how people rated their ability to manage their economic life to reduce stress and increase security

▪ 184 or third to last in Physical Well-Being, which was described as having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

▪ 167 for Purpose, or liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals

▪ 164 for Social Well-Being, or having supportive relationships and love in your life

▪ 131 for Community and liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community

Mississippi often lands near the bottom of lists but Adele Lyons, chief executive of Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce, said she didn’t expect these results.

“I’m a little bit surprised because certainly our communities have a lot to offer,” she said. People stationed at Keesler or the Seabee base or who worked at NASA Stennis Space Center often choose to stay or return when they retire, she said. “I think that says something to the well-being of our community.”

Lyons noted that cities with higher population and wages generally ranked higher in the survey.

“They must be talking to the wrong people,” is how Bill Holmes, president of Visit MS Gulf Coast, reacted to the findings of the survey. “We have millions of visitors that come every year because it’s a happy place,” he said. “Just the natural resources alone gives you a lot of peace and well-being.”

Naples, Florida, another waterfront town, topped the list of places with the greatest well-being for the third year.

Holmes said South Mississippi has as much to offer as Naples, with festivals and events every weekend. Visitors are greeted with free sunrise walks on the beach, he said. They can spend a day fishing on the Happy Hooker Fishing Charter out of the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor and enjoy a sunset happy hour.

The researchers surveyed more than 337,000 people across the country by phone and enjoy your work and learning new things every day are strong predictors of overall well-being.

Holmes said in South Mississippi, “We need to bring more manufacturing and high-tech jobs, which will bring higher salaries.” Money can go a long way to improving the well-being of those living on stretched budgets, he said.

Cities with highest well-being

1. Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, Florida

2. Barnstable Town, Massachusetts

3. Boulder, Colorado

4. Santa Cruz-Watsonville, California

5. Charlottesville, Virginia

6. Lynchburg, Virginia

7. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida

8. Santa Rosa, California

9. Prescott, Arizona

10. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, California

Gallup-Sharecare

Cities with lowest well-being

177. Flint, Michigan

178. Rockford, Illinois

179. Fayetteville, North Carolina

180. Erie, Pennsylvania

181. South Bend-Mishawaka, Indiana-Michigan

182. Binghamton, New York

183. Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, North Carolina

184. Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula

185. Canton-Massillon, Ohio

186. Fort Smith, Arkansas-Oklahoma

Gallup-Sharecare

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