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Internet Access Is Correlated With Happiness in the US

There is a connection, but who knows why?

While Facebook makes you sad, Instagram makes you annoying, and Twitter makes you unfaithful, how connected your state is to the internet correlates to how happy your state is.

Given that "connectedness" is indicative of other things, such as a baseline financial stability, maybe this makes sense, and the results of an analysis conducted by HighspeedInternet.com certainly prove there are exceptions to the rule: Nebraska is the fourth happiest state according to a 2013 poll by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index—a measure that looks at emotional health, work environment, physical health, and a few other things— but it's 35th in terms of connectedness, according to US census data for percentage of state residents who access the internet from home. Oregon is the third most-connected state, but the 25th happiest state (from what I understand, Portland is not to blame).

But happy, yet not terribly connected states like Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana are the exceptions to the loose but evident rule, though: happy states are connected states, and connected states are happy states. Only eight states were found to be 20 or more positions away across the two lists, while three states were exactly in the same spot on each.

Image: Highspeedinternet.com

How significant is this correlation? As the research team explained "The R-square statistic for this linear regression is .38."

On behalf of the less-than-statistically nimble (okay, for me), I asked Edwin Ivanauskas, a researcher at Highspeed, what it meant. "We were surprised at how high it is. Statistically speaking, 38 percent of happiness can be explained by the level of internet access people have in their state."

Whether that's true or not, it seems likely that connectedness at least plays a role in happiness. 

The report goes on to note that this is a correlation, not a causality. And even then, something like Gallup's happiness poll, Ivanuskas told me, is actually made of six different scores. "These scores include life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behavior, and basic access," he said. "With each of these, they are measuring one's present life situation as well as how good they feel about their prospects in the next 5 years. This is very subjective and could be related to even something like the general outlook of people in a region. A more negative culture could easily lead to a lower index score. It's one of those subjective measures that can change due to a huge variety of factors."

As for the Census question about how many people access the internet from home, it's easy to imagine that it's a pretty straight indicator of wealth, which to a point makes sense as an indicator of happiness. It sucks being poor, and states like North Dakota and Nebraska passed through the Great Recession better than most places, on the wings of fracking and smaller housing bubbles to burst. 

"The connectivity question can definitely be linked to wealth," Ivanuskas allowed. "If someone is connecting to the internet from home they must have internet access. They also need to have a device to connect them, either a traditional pc, laptop, or mobile device like their phone or tablet."

I mean, for this correlation to mean much, you'd have to have a lot of faith in a Gallup poll reveal which states are happiest; you're not obliged to think that you'll be happier with the internet in your home.

"There are clearly factors that affect happiness that are beyond their internet access at home, but that doesn't mean that more access won't affect their happiness. Internet access definitely has a big play in our modern economy. It affects education, commerce, even our social lives," Ivanuskas said, buffeting the "internet-as-indicator-not-cause" of something else, and also how we can probably expect the correlation to grow.

"It's interesting that most states with a big difference have a much higher happiness score than their internet access rank would suggest and not the other way around," Ivanuskas said. "We don't see as many states that have a low happiness score and an inversely high connectivity level."

Except for Oregon. What's up, guys? You wanna talk? I know you've got email, so don't hesitate to drop me a line.