When you’re talking about happiness, Louisiana grasped the concept long before Pharrell Williams had a hit record.
Data from a working paper by Harvard University’s Edward Glaeser and Oren Ziv and Vancouver School of Economics professor Joshua Gottlieb show that eight of the 60 cities with the happiest people in the United States are in Louisiana.
Believe it or not, New Orleans, long considered center of all kinds of libertine overindulgence, is not even the happiest city in its own state.
The Big Easy ranks 59th on the list. Leading the way is Lafayette, a town about 90 minutes to the west on the interstate.
In order, happy cities two through five are Houma, Shreveport-Bossier City, Baton Rouge and Alexandria.
Lake Charles is eighth and Monroe is 17th.
While it would be easy to attribute all this happiness to the unique Cajun culture, it would be inaccurate. That would fit Lafayette and Houma, which are smack in the middle of bayou country. But the Louisiana cities on the list are as different and varied in their personalities as America itself.
Shreveport-Bossier City and Monroe, both in northern Louisiana, are influenced more by Protestant religion, especially the Baptist faith, than by the predominantly Catholic culture found in the southeast.
Lake Charles, which is in the far southwestern part of the state, is more like Texas in its culture because it’s closer to the Texas border.
Alexandria, in the central part of the state, is shaped more by its Confederate military history and proximity to Fort Polk, a U.S. Army base.
Baton Rouge, of course, is a company town. As the state capital, it is the nexus of state government and, since Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana’s most populous city.
I lived in Baton Rouge for two-and-a-half years, working as an anchor/reporter for a statewide radio network.
We were responsible for communicating news from throughout the state to affiliates throughout the state. As such, we had to get to know the whole state so we would know what we were talking about.
Some Louisianians questioned by WWL Radio attributed their happiness to the laid-back tempo of life.
Others noted the friendly, hospitable nature of the people and the closeness of family and friends.
But many said it’s just that there’s so much going on in Louisiana.
You can count on that. Each parish and many municipalities have their own regular festivals. There is a different festival going on in Louisiana practically each and every week. They aren’t as big as Mardi Gras, but they all celebrate some aspect of local life.
Festivals in various part of Louisiana celebrate peaches, blueberries, crawfish, vintage cars, zydeco music, sacred music, rabbits, strawberries, hot sauce, black bears, punk rock, railroads, bicycles, watermelons, sushi, ducks, peppers, photography and voodoo.
While there are plenty of ambitious people trying to attract national attention with nationally popular attractions to pump up the state’s poor economy, Louisianians have always celebrated who and what they are, right where they are, no matter the state of the economy.
And that’s at least one definition of happiness.