The Saddest Place in the World

Comments 39

everything will be okay

If the pursuit of happiness is our most-important Earthly mission, my neighbors and I are doing it wrong.

According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, my decision to live in Ohio—along with the other 11.5 million people who choose to live here—makes me a stupid moron.

The Buckeye State is the No. 5 overall saddest state in the United States, according to the 2013 index, down a couple slots from the year before. Had Gallup interviewed me, we might have been even higher on the list.

Ohio has problems.

We’re among the leaders in teenage pregnancy. The weather—at least in the Great Lakes region—is cloudy and shitty an extraordinarily large amount of time. We’ve got a bunch of meth cookers and users. Old Rust Belt cities. Disappointing sports teams. A bunch of dipshits. Too much crime and poverty for a state that is supposed to be part of the Midwest—America’s heartland—full of gorgeous fields, picturesque farms, quaint little towns and villages, and some of the kindest people in the world.

A plethora of decent-sized cities like Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, as well as mid-sized population centers like Toledo, Dayton, Akron and Youngstown have created this interesting blend of country-ish Midwest, and Rust Belt urban centers.

Everyone likes different things. Ohio is the No. 7 most-populated state in one of the world’s so-called superpower nations. So, it’s not some rinky dink shithole by any objective measure. But it has some rinky dink shithole pockmarks in it.

Lousy real-estate values. Sub-par employment numbers. And an overall lack of mental and physical health all converge to manufacture this sad state of affairs.

If you look for the sadness, you’ll find it.

You’ll see it on the worn-out faces of blue-collar workers at the pub. You’ll see it on the faces of people walking down the streets, pushing or pulling all their possessions in shopping carts or rolling luggage.

You’ll see it on the faces of stressed-out moms and dads trying to have a pleasant family meal at some casual dining chain restaurant.

A family trying to manufacture a good time, but both parents and all the kids wishing they were doing something else.

I think that’s because you can be sad even while doing something we think is supposed to be fun.

Good News!

The state rank thing is bullshit.

For two reasons.

Reason #1: Despite the researchers claims that the results statistically cover 95 percent of American households, there are so many anomalies, it’s easy for me to dismiss it.

North Dakota, for example, went from the 19th-ranked state in 2012 all the way to No. 1 in 2013.

North Dakota.

I’ve never been to North Dakota. I understand it’s a gorgeous place full of super-nice people. And both of those things go a very long way with me.

And, please, if you’re from North Dakota, I pray you don’t take offense to this: But… really?

North Dakota?

I’m supposed to believe that the highest concentration of people with the greatest quality of life live in North Dakota? And that something amazing happened between 2012 and 2013 to justify the leap from No. 19 to the top of the list?


Reason #2: Wherever you go, there you are.

I was born in Iowa. Lived there until I was nearly five years old. I’ve spent lots and lots of time in Iowa. It’s ranked No. 10 on the list. It was No. 9 the year before.

And I do really like it there. At least the part of the state I consider my other home. People are very nice there. And they are a happy bunch, it seems.

But you know who’s not happy there?

People getting divorced.

People who lost their friends or their parents or their children.

People getting diagnosed with horrible illnesses.

People touched by some of the real horrors of the world: murder, rape, kidnapping, suicide, etc.

Those people aren’t happy at all. Even if they live in Iowa.

Even if they live in North Dakota.

The Sunshine State

I wanted to move to the beach because the sun and the beach make me happy.

Maybe it’s the Vitamin D.

Maybe it’s because it’s beautiful.

Maybe it’s a figment of my imagination.

I just know I wanted to be there, so I made it happen. I moved to Florida after graduating from college. But my then-girlfriend/fiancée and eventually wife was extremely unhappy.

I had my own issues with being so disconnected with my family and social network.

So, we made it our mission to return to Ohio a little more than a year down there.

It took us nearly three years to succeed. Every news reporting job I didn’t land was like a dagger. Things I used to hate, like shitty rusty cars and snow storms became novelties.

The sun and blue skies became a curse.

The pristine condition of the roads and buildings and automobiles felt sterile and fake. Things that are actually wonderful became not wonderful. Because of our perception.

And then we got back to Ohio.

A good job. A nice house (that we could afford, unlike in Florida!). Being surrounded by friends and family again—the most priceless, wonderful and important thing in the world, I think.

We were happy.

But Life Happens

It does.

No matter where you are, life happens. We know people who get sick and die. We have financial problems and stresses. We have drama at work and with members of our family.

Our human relationships suffer from ignorance. From selfishness. From stubbornness.

We age. We lose that innocence.

It’s brutal, I think. How ill-prepared so many of us are for the rigors of adulthood. All those years just blissfully running around playing with toys and video games and going to parties.

We can’t even help it. No one wanted to spoil it for us.

Our grandparents don’t tell us. Our parents don’t tell us. Other adults in our lives.

No one tells you the big secret: Shit’s about to get real.

And it does.

The shit gets real. As we lose people and things and marriages and ourselves.

I bet even people in places like North Dakota and Colorado and Hawaii feel that exact same way.

Nobody’s Gonna Tell Us How to Live

At least not me.

We get to make our own choices.

I’m a little stuck here in Ohio. Because of my five-year-old son who I will never, ever leave until he’s grown up and tells me to piss off.

And, yeah. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs around here.

The weather is shit.

The economy is shit.

I don’t have any family nearby.

And there are a million things to get sad about.

But I’m not going to wallow in that sadness. And no one else has to, either.

You should stand on the shores of Lake Erie on a beautiful summer evening. You can’t see the other side. The only thing missing is the coconut palms.


You should see how fun downtown Columbus is on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon after the Ohio State Buckeyes get a win.


You should see the smiles on the faces of all of the friendly people. Infected by our Midwesternness. Beautiful smiles. And politeness. And charity. And kindness.

My people.

There’s no place like home.

But I know a secret: EVERYBODY feels that way.

You look around wherever you live—even in Los Angeles or New York—and you can see all of the good this world has to offer.

Everyone can do that. In every nook and cranny. And I think a lot of us do. But that more people should.

The fifth-saddest state?

Maybe so.

But I can choose happiness.

No family.

I’ll build something new.


Someone will want me.


I can be whatever I want to be.

I’ve lived in the saddest place in the world.

A lot of people live there. We all needed to be there, because it’s okay to hurt. But we’re always on the lookout. For a vacation out of there, or better yet, a permanent relocation.

There are no big, bright Exit signs in the saddest place in the world. There are no maps. No specific instructions to get us out of there.

And that’s because it’s an illusion. We can’t really run away from all of the things that actually matter.

All that stuff lives inside of us.

Mementos tucked away in a drawer.

Fuel that needs burned.

Luggage full of things we might need later.

We can’t run away. We can’t relocate to some magical place where the elusive “happy” exists.

It’s part of the lie we believe.

And totally impossible.

Our only choice is to change ourselves.

To change the world.

And that’s totally possible.

39 thoughts on “The Saddest Place in the World”

  1. The town I live in was voted the 8th happiest place to live in the UK recently based on similar statistics used to assess the happiness over your side of the pond. It’s bullshit. You’re right. I’ve had some of my happiest moments here and I came back for some of the saddest moments, I had some of my happiest moments when I lived in London and some of my saddest moments which I came here to escape from.

    Happiness is inside of us, it’s up to us to look for it and when we see it inside of us we can help put it inside of other people or at least help them to see it in themselves.

    These indexes serve no purpose unless they are there to make us grateful for what we have, because every time I see one that’s what I do… just smile and be happy for what I have because what I haven’t got really doesn’t matter.

    1. I’m so glad you agree.

      We all have a million things for which to be grateful, and we all have some not-so-great things to challenge us.

      And our job is to do the best we can with all of those things.

      No matter where we live. No matter what those circumstances.

      It’s pretty much the most-important thing in the world. It’s a wonder we don’t work harder at it.

      1. Some people wake in the morning and neglect to choose to be happy.

        It’s a choice it really is and choosing to be kind, to be grateful to be positive are other factors which contribute to the ease with which you can follow through on your choice to be happy.

        I taught my kids too, as they left the house in the morning “Stay safe, choose happiness and remember I love you”

        Now they are grown I still send them off with the same farewell and they still have happy days, everyday, even when something bad happens they can find something to be happy about and grateful for.

        We bring it on ourselves, we can wallow or we can choose happiness and when we liberate ourselves and allow ourselves to be happy it happens.

  2. The only reason Ohio is sad is because the Browns are constantly getting their asses kicked by the Steelers :p *as a Pittsburgher, I feel the need to rattle your chain about your sports teams at least once in a while. Realistically, I have very little interest in sports*

    I traveled to Ohio a lot for work the last couple of years and I always liked it! The people were always more willing to buy vaccines for their pets, which made me happy, and honestly, I always said Ohio-ians were a much friendlier bunch than the Yinzers. I was not a fan of the driving situation; maybe I’m just a big wimp who doesn’t like driving in new places and feels like everyone is trying to run me off the road. But, overall, I was sad when I got a new job and didn’t get to go on my weekend treks across the state line anymore.

    It doesn’t really matter where you are, sadness happens. Its how you deal with it and how you let it affect your life. Nice post and sorry again about your sports teams 😉

    1. 🙂 I accept the friendly ribbing, Hannah. I’m friends with entirely too many Steelers fans.

      I’m pretty cool about it. And you’re right, of course. Our teams make us incredibly sad. All of them.

      I’m glad to read you mostly like Ohio. It has much more good qualities than bad in my humble opinion.

      Please have a good afternoon!

    1. The Queen City is a fine place! I spent a lot of time there in my youth, and I’m a pretty big fan.

      I have an affinity for river towns. Always have. And you have the best Ohio weather down there.

  3. It’s not what a poll tells you that counts, it’s how you yourself feel. A survey grading a town’s happiness is silly. Only statisticians can take something like happiness and try to count it. Good luck with living in Ohio and seeing your son grow up.

    1. Gird yer loins!

      You’re right, Dorothy. I hope people don’t let their surroundings and circumstances dictate their lives.

      We have so much more control than that.

      1. Gotta love a funky idiom.

        It’s a big lesson for people, I’m a people too, to take the reigns of our lives and stop blaming something outside ourselves for our unhappiness if our unhappiness is just a result of our poor attitude.

        Thanks for a post to remind us that we’re more in charge of our lives than we think.

  4. So true…you will find what you are looking for. No matter what or where. Two people could be sitting on a park bench, and both will find different things…someone will find all the filth and sadness, the other will find beauty and joy.

    It’s also true that if you think a place will make you happy…you’ve got it all wrong. However, I will want to move to the west coast. I’m tired of most of my year being cold and grey. I’d like a little more sunshine myself.

    What I can do is find happiness and joy right here. Even if it is grey and cold for the millionth day in a row…

    1. Yes! I will one day probably move as well. Or at least travel more to sunnier places. But in the meantime, there is so much good to be thankful for here.

      And I would miss so much about my house and job and people here if I went away tomorrow.

      I choose gratitude. Hope you’re well, Dawn.

  5. The pursuit of happiness is an illusion, there is no such thing! Not in the way that you can chase it. Happiness can not be pursued, it is a byproduct of living a full complete life. Living life fully means something different to each of us, don’t live life to other peoples expectations. Living fully means that a lot of shit will happen to us. We try something, we fail, we try again and again or change what we want or whatever. NOT trying for fear of failure is not living. Happiness is momentary and only means something when contrasted with saddness. Imagine if everyne was happy all the time? A permanent state of happiness would just become boring and ultiimately sad. People would just start risk taking to make life interesting and risk losing their happiness. Death, sickness, relationship problems are all part of life and is what makes us appreciate when times are good. If times are always good there is nothing to appreciate. Try living in India with no money and see how much you appreciate your state now. Contrast is everything, the ying and yang. Take away other people’s and society’s expectations. What is it you really want? Chase it! Failure is irrellevant. Not chasing it is the real failure.

    1. I agree with much of this. I explore the concept if happiness a lot.

      It’s just a word! And it’s my favorite word to describe what everyone really wants. And you made my point for me bringing up poverty in India. Many of those people are “happy.”

      Yes. Ups and downs. And yes. Gratitude. And yes, the real failure isn’t chasing something.

      But I want people to reprioritize. Because we mostly chase: Money, Things, Status, Sex, and Fun. Wise people add Spiritual and Physical Health to that list.

      None if those things alone offer “happiness.”

      But a bunch of them? Earned honestly? Working together inside if a grateful heart and mind?

      I think that brings contentment.

      I just call it “happy.”

      And I think all of us need to spend more time seeking that inner peace and happiness than we do all the “stuff” we always want.

      I hope I don’t sound like I’m disagreeing with you. I am not.

      Just explaining my use of “happy.”

  6. My husband is from Toledo so I visit often. I think there is a sadness in seeing the old Downtown so bereft of life because it suffered when industry left town. Glass I think mostly. Similar through the whole of Ohio? The word Downtown usually connotes urban activity and a certain energy but it’s pretty deserted. I think having to use your car to get around everywhere even just for a pint of milk can lead to a malaise, physical and mental–at least for me it would. But the friendliness of the people brings a smile every time to this New Yorker’s face. How bad can that be?

    1. You’ve summed up all of our cities pretty well, minus certain areas in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.

      Great food scene in Cleveland. Columbus is our most-vibrant and modern. Cincinnati has our best weather and a lovely riverfront.

      Of course. You can’t compare anything to NYC. I’ll entertain the argument that that’s the greatest place on Earth. Probably not my first choice, personally (that’s mostly climate and financial.) But fantastic, nonetheless.

      1. Everyone seems to want to live here and New Yorkers think their city is the best place on earth…but it never features highly on lists of Best Places to Live. It’s not the saddest but it’s nowhere near the happiest. Usually way down the list 🙂

  7. Here in California, everything is simultaneously wonderful and crappy. You can say the same thing about the other 49. Each state has its own awesomeness and also a dark side.

    1. I always say that everything in this life is a trade off. Gotta identify priorities.

      Rarely is something altogether better. It’s just different. But may be better to us as individuals due to our various wants and needs.

      I think you summed it up pretty well.

      California might be the most-beautiful place I’ve ever been. Yet, I would never live there due mainly to the financial and geographical implications.

      So I understand precisely what you mean. 🙂

  8. I was in North Dakota once. Drove clear across it. Tried not to stop. Got stopped by a state trooper. “Do you know how fast you were going?” she asked. “Apparently not fast enough, Officer” said I. I got the ticket and a point on my license. So yeah, North Dakota is a shithole. And now it’s a poisonous shithole with all the fracking. Stupid North Dakotans.

    The other thing I know is this: Everything* is amazing** and no one*** is happy****.

    * Something
    ** adequate
    *** someone
    **** meh

  9. life doesn’t have a manual, it doesn’t have a set of rules.. you find y our space and your place and you make it work. happiness comes in all sorts of ways and what might make you blissfully happy, wont do the same for somoene else. Other times you just wanna wallow in your shitty life and you need that too, for things NOT to be great, but then you find reasons to be grateful and reasons to be happy or you simply need to be reminded that you are in fact ok…
    Living in a certain place, being with someone, doing something specific, doens’t mean you’re guarenteed happiness, but it does guarentee learning and that’s life

  10. All I know is I live in the greatest State in the Union and that you took a sad subject and made it even more sad! I was positively morose by the time I got to the end… and it takes a lot to bring me down!

  11. Matt, I couldn’t agree more that you are in control of your own happiness. You and I have very similar stories of failed marriages and life disappointments in general. It didn’t take me long after my husband left me to realize that my happiness wasn’t soley dependent on another person in my life but me. I had the power to make myself happy, sad, depressed, angry or any other emotion. I choose to be happy and do whatever it is at the moment to be that way. It could be the silliest thing or what I was afraid of in the past as being embarrassing. That’s the other thing, I could care less (now) what other people think of me and what I am doing, because I am doing whatever makes me happy and if you can’t appreciate that then ride out. LOL…I have dated a few guys since my husband left and one of them just couldn’t handle my attitude or thought process of ‘I’m happy with who I am and if you don’t like that or something about me then you can leave, love me or hate me, I don’t care which one’…yep, he left…(turns out he was a bit on the bi-polar crazy side). No skin off my nose 🙂
    Florida is my home state, born and raised….why yes it is full of sunshine and sandy beaches….it is also full of 7 months of hurrican season, humidity from hell, hot as all get out, unpredictable weather (you don’t like the weather situation, wait 5 minutes you are in Florida) and thanks to the Univerisity of Florida (yes, I live in Gainesville) we have misquitos most of the year and love bugs twice a year that will eat your paint off your car if you don’t wash it every day in May and September. I love living here because of my family and friends, but trust me, I could easily live in Iowa with the rest of my family and friends too.
    Thank you for you blog, I take a lot from each of them.

    1. Florida has a lot of wonderful qualities. I remember the crazy love bug mating season! That’s funny. I’d forgotten. No place like home. And yeah. We choose to be happy.

      Thank you for saying you like the things you see here. That means a lot.

  12. You are so right that we make our own happiness and it isn’t just determined by living in a fun city, beautiful weather, etc. I have lived in the Toledo area, Dayton and currently Cincinnati so I guess I don’t really have any comparison for life outside of Ohio. I love Cincinnati though. There’s so much to do, cost of living is low and traffic is manageable. I’m glad that you are determined to make your life what you want it to be!

    1. And I’m glad you’re an Ohioan and like it! It’s a fine place when there isn’t six inches of snow in the ground and gray skies. 🙂

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: