Is California happiness worth its steep price?

The “Looking Glass” ponders economic and real estate trends through two distinct lenses: the optimist’s “glass half-full” and the pessimist’s “glass half-empty.”

Buzz: California ranked high on four national scorecards looking at happiness while also being near the top of the charts for the cost of living.

Sources: My trusty spreadsheet reviewed four recent “happiness” rankings as well as a study of state-vs.-state disposable incomes.

Debate: Is California worth the steep price?

Glass half-full

California ranks on four scorecards as a very “happy place” on a national scale.

Consider the state’s top 10 finish in rankings that try to put numbers on the “happiness” of a state. The varied math of these studies compares demographics, mental health, wellness, public safety and economic opportunities.

California was No. 7 on WalletHub’s happiness scorecard. The state drew an eighth-place showing in Top Data’s grades. There was a No. 9 rank from NiceRx’s review.

And California was the fourth-least lonely state in’s “loneliest states” rankings.

Next, I averaged the rankings for each state grades from the four report cards. By this math, California ranks as the third-happiest state in my composite wellness rankings.

Just ahead of California was Hawaii and New Jersey. Just behind was Maryland and Minnesota.

At the other end of the spectrum, West Virginia was No. 50, then Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Ohio.

Glass half-empty

California’s happiness doesn’t come cheaply. So what’s the price of this possible paradise?

California’s $76,386 per capita income for 2021 ranked fourth among the states, according to a review of federal data by Upgraded Points. That’s 26% above the average income of all states.

But the typical California tax bill and the high cost of living shave $17,504 off that bounty. Those added costs are more than triple the average state’s adjustments to a paycheck.

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So after paying those expenses, Californians are left with $58,882 in disposable income.

Yes, that ranks 10th-highest. Yet it’s only 6% above the 50-state average.

By the way, the states with the nine largest biggest tax/cost-adjusted income were Connecticut, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Alaska, Nebraska and Washington state.

The bottom five? Mississippi, then Hawaii, Arizona, Alabama and New Mexico.

Bottom line

No collection of studies can provide a perfect answer when asked, “Is the California lifestyle worth it?”

California’s pricey cost of living means it’s a tough sell even to folks who relish the Golden State’s qualities.

Look, no state is for everybody. And finances are a big factor where folks choose to live, too.

This disposable income data is another reminder that the Californian living leaves many folks with slim monetary cushions.

Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at


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