“Rhode Island Most Miserable State” said numerous articles, as Gallup released its latest polling for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index on stress levels and enjoyment in various states. The problem with the headline is that it misrepresented the data Gallup provided, which can be seen here.
Sadly, The Providence Journal mistakenly reported that Rhode Island was not only the most miserable state, but under the headline “Rhode Islanders say they’re sad” mistakenly claimed “in Rhode Island, 80.4 percent of those asked said they did not enjoy themselves.” In actuality, 80.4% of Rhode Island claimed they’d experienced feelings of enjoyment that day before being polled. The online version, though the numbers are correct there (the online version chose the equally misleading headline of “Gallup poll: Little pleasure, lots of stress in Rhode Island”), claims Rhode Islanders described this state as “boring” and called Rhode Island residents “depressed”.
WPRO chose to play the survey with this tweet (and the story suggested Rhode Islanders move to Hawaii):
— WPRO_Newsroom(@WPRO_newsroom) April 24, 2013
So here’s the thing, despite the agreement of WPRO and The Providence Journal, the data doesn’t back that conclusion up at all. That’s a falsity. The poll actually shows that about 4 out 5 Rhode Islanders experienced enjoyment “a lot of the day” before the poll, and that about 46.3% of Rhode Islanders also reported feeling stressed the day before. By no definition is that “miserable” or “boring” or “depressed”.
In comparison, Hawaii found roughly 9 out of 10 its residents had experienced enjoyment the day before and only 32.1% had experienced feelings of stress.
Does the survey show Rhode Island reports that it experienced the least enjoyment the day before the poll? Yes. But low-population states like Rhode Island and Hawaii had such small sample sizes that there’s 4 point margin of error, which does need to be considered, especially since this was a survey that was ranked based on fractions of a percent (so we’re about last, and Hawaii is about first). It’s also worth pointing out slightly less than 20% of Rhode Islanders failed to say they’d experienced positive feelings “a lot of the day”.
Only the worst cynic could describe that as “miserable” or suggest that Rhode Islanders think their state is boring, and Gallup, to its credit, never does. Gallup gives a very nuanced discussion about stress and enjoyment:
Rhode Island residents were the least likely to report feeling enjoyment the previous day, at 80.4%, although that is still high on an absolute basis. Residents in other high-stress states, Kentucky and West Virginia, were also among the least likely to experience enjoyment… Utah is unique in that it is routinely ranked among both the highest stress and highest enjoyment states, appearing among the top five in enjoyment in 2008, 2011, and 2012, suggesting a complex relationship between stress and other emotions.
Nationally, 84.9% of Americans reported feeling enjoyment “yesterday” in 2012. States with relatively lower enjoyment levels, below 84%, were primarily clustered in the Northeast and South, but also included Ohio. The states where enjoyment was higher than 86% were located mainly in the Midwest and West, including Hawaii and Alaska.
It’s important that we get these sorts of articles right, because when we place these under misleading headlines and give erroneous details or make wisecracks about these results in the article body, the public is being lied to. What we’re going to see is the people who consistently bash this state using these articles to prove their point of “Rhode Island sucks”, even though the study itself doesn’t support them. I can almost guarantee there will be a political mailer that cites The Journal article in 2014.
It’s really not surprising to me that given the 38 Studios collapse, Hurricane Sandy, continued high unemployment and the relentless slog of dreary headlines and editorials that less than half of Rhode Islanders feel stressed. What is great about this survey is that the average Rhode Island resident is a pretty upbeat person. There’s an obscene minority that really hates this state and doesn’t hesitate to tell us that, but it turns out that the overwhelming majority of Rhode Islanders enjoy their lives. Even though Hawaiians experience 30.67% less stress than Rhode Island, they only experience 11.57% more enjoyment. As Rhode Islanders, we may occasionally feel stressed, but we know how to enjoy ourselves, too. Fuck yeah, Rhode Island.