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Meet America's Sadness Belt

The country's unhappiest states are all in one cluster in the South and Midwest.

Posted on March 13, 2013, at 12:37 p.m. ET

America's Unhappiest States

Gallup Well-Being Index / Via

Unhappiest states are in red; happiest ones are in green.

America has a sadness belt stretching contiguously from Ohio to Louisiana, according to data on national well-being released today. The ten states in this belt — Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma — trail the rest of the country when it comes to emotional health, physical health, and general quality of life.

These states perform poorly on lots of different measures of well-being, according to the annual well-being report issued by research firms Gallup and Healthways on Wednesday. Residents in the belt generally score poorly on emotional health, meaning they're less likely than others to report "learning or doing something interesting" or "being treated with respect" and more likely to feel angry or stressed. They're even less likely to smile.

The report doesn't investigate what might cause the sadness belt, but there's evidence it may not be the Great Recession — job satisfaction in those states was not as dismal as other indicators. But comparing this year's numbers to last year's in some states, it looks like even that may be getting worse.

Update: Healthways researcher Lindsay Sears told BuzzFeed that much of the belt's poor showing might come from unhealthy behaviors, like smoking and lack of exercise. Those behaviors in turn may be caused by access problems — people in the unhappiest states were more likely than others to say they had trouble buying fruits and vegetables or finding a safe place to exercise.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.