The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

February 25, 2014

‘Les Miserables’: It’s hardly almost Heaven in West Virginia

ENID, Okla. — Sometimes life seems like it could just not get any worse.

We all have days like that, of course, days when we are convinced the universe is engaged in some grand conspiracy to make our lives a heap of hammered hell.

For me, that feeling comes every Monday morning. I’m starting a petition to expand the weekend to four days.

My bride has been going through some physical issues and has not been happy with her lot, until she got a look at some people whose issues were far greater, and their prognoses much bleaker, than hers.

Your particular situation, like much else in this life, is a matter of perspective.

If you are ill, there is always someone sicker. If you are poor, there is always someone with even less. If you are bereft, there is always someone who has suffered greater heartbreak.

Such knowledge won’t change our status, certainly, but might make our travails easier to bear. Knowing there is someone worse off than you stirs our sense of empathy, of course, but also makes us feel somehow better about our own life situation.

Which is good, because all of us in Oklahoma are miserable.

That, at least, is the assessment of the latest Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

The Gallup people interviewed 176,000 people in all 50 states, asking them about their physical and emotional health.

Gallup used six categories to measure well-being — life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors and access to basic necessities.

According to that survey, Oklahoma is the ninth most miserable state in the union, with a well-being index score of 64.7, which is not all that far below the nationwide score of 66.2.

The report says we have a life expectancy of 75.9 years, fifth lowest in the nation, and the 10th highest percentage of obese people, 30.5 percent. The state’s median household income is $44,312, 10th lowest in the nation, and the percentage of Oklahomans with a high school diploma, 86.7 percent, is 19th lowest.

According to the report, Oklahomans are not healthy. Only half of us reported eating fruits and vegetables on a regular basis in 2013, lowest in the nation. We lead the nation in the percentage of adults reporting a heart attack in the past year, 6 percent (the national average is 3.8 percent). In 2010, Oklahoma reported 235.2 deaths related to heart disease per 100,000 residents, third highest in the nation.

More than 10 percent of state residents report not having easy access to clean and safe drinking water, worse than in any other state.

How depressing. We are a mess. How can we go on?

Of course, we are only the ninth most miserable state. That means there are eight states worse off than us.

West Virginia is the most miserable state in the nation, with a well-being index of 61.4. They die sooner, are fatter, make less money and have less education than we do. Besides, West Virginia reported the highest rate of respondents unable to partake in age-appropriate activities. For me, I figure getting out of bed in the morning is about as age-appropriate as it gets.

No. 2 is Kentucky, followed by Mississippi, Alabama, Ohio, Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri.

 We are better than them. They are far more miserable than we. Woo hoo!

I don’t know about you, but I feel better already.

At the other end of the spectrum are those states where folks are least miserable, I suppose. Topping that list are North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Montana, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii, Washington and Iowa.

OK, in Hawaii, I can see people feeling good about themselves, with great weather and beautiful beaches, and in Colorado, they can legally smoke weed, but the rest I question.

In Fargo, N.D., they average 50.1 inches of snow every winter. In Bismark, N.D, the average is 51 inches. In Sioux Falls, S.D., it typically snows from November to April, dumping an average of 44.5 inches of the white stuff.

In Billings, Mont., it snows from October to May, a total of 55 inches, on average. The coldest air temperature ever recorded in the contiguous United States was 70 degrees below zero, in Medicine Lake, Mont., in January 1954. Want more from Montana? The largest snowflake on record, 15 inches in diameter, fell on Fort Keough, Mont., in January 1897. I hope to goodness some kid didn’t try to catch it on his tongue.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul area is presently in the midst of one of its worst winters on record, with more than 47 inches of snow thus far.

Washington owns the record for the most snowfall in a year, 102 feet on Mount Rainier from 1971 to 1972.

In 1899 in Camp Clarke, Neb., the temperature fell to 47 below zero, a record equaled in Elkader, Iowa, in 1996. In Bloomfield, Vt., in 1933, they topped that with minus 50.

Now I call that miserable.

In Oklahoma, we can change. We can eat more vegetables, get more exercise and lose weight, which means we will live longer. We also can stay in school, and thus make more money when we finally graduate.

Winters are always going to be miserable in North Dakota, no matter what they do.

So feel better about yourselves, Oklahomans. Things could be worse. We could live somewhere in the frozen tundra, and then there’s always West Virginia.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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