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10 of the Happiest Places to Retire in the U.S.

Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

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A state of happiness cannot be pinpointed on a map. But a great deal of residents seem to have found it in these 10 places, according to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index.

Digital health company Sharecare, working with Gallup, has conducted more than 2.6 million surveys nationwide since 2008 to gauge "Americans' perceptions of their lives and their daily experiences." The Well-Being Index is based specifically on residents' feelings about five elements of well-being: "purpose" (liking what you do and being motivated to achieve goals), "social" (having supportive relationships and love), "financial" (managing your budget to feel secure), "community" (liking where you live) and "physical" (being in good health). The higher the score, on a scale of 0 to 100, the happier residents are about where and how they are living their lives.

To come up with our original list of the 50 best places to retire in the U.S.--one in each state--we factored in the "community" and "physical" components of the Well-Being Index, where available, as well as living costs, safety, median incomes and poverty rates for retirement-age residents and the availability of recreational and health care facilities. The following 10 retirement destinations rank the highest in terms of the overall well-being of residents. See if you agree, and consider whether any might make a happy place for your own retirement.

See Also: Where to Retire 2018: All 50 States Ranked for Retirement

Burlington, Vt.

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Well-Being Score: 63.0 (U.S.: 61.8)

Cost of Living: 20.7% above the national average

Average Income for Households 65+: $51,483 (U.S.: $53,799)

State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Least Tax Friendly

This small mountain city on the shores of Lake Champlain is a picturesque setting for tree-hugging retirees. Outdoor recreation is plentiful with miles of hiking and biking paths, nearby beaches where you can swim, kayak or paddleboard in the warmer months, and numerous skiing options in the area. An eco-friendly vibe permeates the town, from the businesses bolstering the city's economy, such as household-products maker Seventh Generation, to the local food movement feeding the neighborhood.

But being green isn't easy on your wallet. Taxes and living costs are high. The median home value is $218,900 in the Green Mountain State and $264,300 in Burlington. A private room in a metro area nursing home costs an annual median of $118,260, compared with $97,455 for the U.S. At least you can save money on academic pursuits. The University of Vermont will cover tuition costs for state residents age 65 and older who wish to take a class, even if it's for credit.

See Also: 13 States That Tax Social Security Benefits

Charleston, S.C.

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Well-Being Score: 63.1

Cost of Living: 4.0% above the national average

Average Income for Households 65+: $52,827

State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Tax Friendly

Southern charm, a rich history, city living and nearby beaches combine to make Charleston a uniquely attractive retirement destination. History buffs, in particular, can appreciate the city's well-preserved antebellum architecture (the Preservation Society of Charleston is the oldest community-based historic preservation group in the country) and Civil War sites, including Fort Sumter.

Foodies, too, can find plenty to enjoy along Charleston's cobblestone streets, especially in the brunch and comfort food areas. And if you need to work off some of those calories, water sports, including surfing, paddle boarding and kayaking, are popular local activities--along with boating and fishing. The population of the city proper is a manageable 134,875.

See Also: Great Places to Retire Near the Beach

Provo, Utah

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Well-Being Score: 63.2

Cost of Living: 1.9% below the national average

Average Income for Households 65+: $59,020

State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Least Tax Friendly

The Beehive State, 10th in our 2018 rankings of the best states for retirement, is a sweet spot for active retirees. And Provo, with mountain peaks within the city limits and Utah Lake on its doorstep, is particularly buzz-worthy. Brigham Young University offers intellectual stimulation to complement the physical activity.

Another feather in its cap: The Milken Institute rates Provo as the best large city for successful aging, noting the area's vibrant economy and safety, as well as the population's healthy lifestyles and high levels of volunteering among older adults. It also has an abundance of health care facilities, more than 33 establishments per 1,000 seniors in the metro area compared with just 19 per 1,000 seniors in the U.S.

See Also: Great Places to Retire Near the Mountains

Kennewick, Wash.

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Well-Being Score: 63.6

Cost of Living: 3.0% below the national average

Average Income for Households 65+: $57,179

State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Tax Friendly

This metro area includes Richland and Pasco, all together dubbed the Tri-Cities of Washington State and all qualifying as great retirement destinations. The low cost of living is particularly attractive thanks to above-average incomes among retirement-age residents.

Whether you're partial to exploring the great outdoors or focusing on wine country, you have plenty of options--you don't even have to choose one over the other. You can enjoy boating and fishing on the Columbia, Yakima and Snake Rivers, and hiking or biking on the 23-mile Sacagawea Trail. There are also more than 200 wineries within a 50-mile radius, offering beautiful views and many wines to sample.

See Also: The 26 Cheapest States for Retirement

Cape Coral, Fla.

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Well-Being Score: 63.6

Cost of Living: 6% below the national average

Average Income for Households 65+: $50,143

State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Most Tax Friendly

With its desirable climate and favorable tax status, Florida is filled with popular retirement destinations. Many of our favorite retirement spots in the Sunshine State can be found along the Gulf Coast including St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Punta Gorda.

Cape Coral's metro area includes Fort Myers, yet another great place to consider for your retirement. But Cape Coral (city Well-Being Score: 183,365) is unique in its waterway access, offering 400 miles of canals for all your boating, fishing and water sports dreams. And land lovers can enjoy the area's beaches, golfing, tennis, parks and other recreational offerings.

SEE ALSO: 50 Great Places for Early Retirement in the U.S.

Durham, N.C.

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Well-Being Score: 63.6

Cost of Living: 0.8% below the national average

Average Income for Households 65+: $60,221

State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Not Tax Friendly

Duke University and the University of North Carolina may be bitter rivals, but their hometowns of Durham and Chapel Hill, respectively, team up to form a powerhouse metro area, and a great place to retire. Indeed, the Milken Institute ranks Durham-Chapel Hill as the third best large city for successful aging--crediting the area's economic strength, as two-thirds of North Carolina's Research Triangle (the other third being Raleigh), and quality health care. The universities play a big role in those two advantages and also boost up the local cultural and recreational scenes, like in many college towns.

Though not a deal-breaker for every retiree, it's worth noting that violent crimes are slightly more prevalent in Durham than they are for the nation as a whole. The rate of violent crime is 4.1 per 1,000 residents, according to the FBI, compared with 3.9 per 1,000 residents for the U.S. A good real-estate agent can point retirees to safer neighborhoods with retirement-friendly amenities.

See Also: Take the Retiree Tax Quiz

Carlsbad, Calif.

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Well-Being Score: 63.8

Cost of Living: 46.1% above the national average

Average Income for Households 65+: $62,681

State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Mixed

Part of the San Diego metro area, Carlsbad (city Well-Being Score: 115,330) offers a small-city feel with easy access to big-city amenities. It has a vibrant cultural community, ocean-side living and sunny climate. Plus, there are 25 parks, nearly 50 miles of hiking trails and a full calendar of artsy offerings, including Foreign Film Friday and free summer concerts. And you can choose among a host of retirement communities with ocean views.

Of course, you have to be able to afford it. Like much of California, which sports the second-highest living costs in the country behind only Hawaii, the cost of living is steep. For example, the median home value in the U.S. is $184,700; in California, it's $409,300; and in Carlsbad, it's $674,400. The taxes also weigh heavily on your wallet.

See Also: 10 States With the Highest Sales Taxes

Portland, Maine

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Well-Being Score: 63.9

Cost of Living: 13.6% above the national average

Average Income for Households 65+: $47,036

State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Mixed

The largest city in Maine, Portland offers a lively downtown and plenty of urban-esque amenities amidst the great outdoors of the Pine Tree State. You can enjoy museums, theaters and an array of eclectic dining. The flagship L.L. Bean store in nearby Freeport is a must-see for many visitors, but resident shoppers also flock to Portland's unique boutiques and outlets.

All the while, you're never too far from the area's many beaches. That means ample opportunity to lounge on the shore or dive into water-based activities including fishing, kayaking, sailing and even surfing. And of course, hiking and biking trails abound--perfect in the (much) colder months, too, for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

See Also: 10 Great Places to Retire for Your Health

Ann Arbor, Mich.

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Well-Being Score: 64.4

Cost of Living: 22.3% above the national average*

Average Income for Households 65+: $68,454

State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Not Tax Friendly

Another college town well suited to retirees, Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan with all its educational programs (including the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), sporting events and cultural affairs. The university also runs the Geriatrics Center & Institute of Gerontology, which focuses on health care issues that come with aging. Along with its research facilities, medical facilities and staff, the Center offers programs and classes to help older adults maximize their good health and independence.

In fact, Ann Arbor's health care facilities are top-notch, earning it a sixth-place ranking among small metro areas for successful aging, according to the Milken Institute. There are 22.5 health care facilities per 1,000 seniors in the metro area, compared with just 19 per 1,000 seniors in the U.S. Along with quality health care, Milken recognizes the area's public transportation options as a winning attribute for older residents. A downside, however, is affordability. The median home value is $250,200, versus $127,800 for the rest of the state.

*Provided by Sperling's Best Places.

See Also: 7 Great Small Towns for Retirement

Lynchburg, Va.

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Well-Being Score: 64.9

Cost of Living: 10.6% below the national average

Average Income for Households 65+: $38,973

State's Tax Rating for Retirees: Tax Friendly

Take a hike. Really. Retiring in the City of Seven Hills, nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains and overlooking the James River, outdoorsy types can hike, jog and bike the more than 18 miles of urban trails on the city's 300-acre greenway. And if that's not enough activity for you, Smith Mountain Lake, Wintergreen ski resort and the Appalachian Trail are all within an hour's drive. It's no wonder residents award it some of the top marks in the country for community well-being, reporting high feelings of safety and community pride. Overall, Lynchburg ranks sixth on the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index.

Low living costs are attractive, in general, but in particular as you age. A private room in a Lynchburg nursing home typically costs $83,950 a year, according to Genworth, compared with a whopping $97,455 a year for the U.S.

See Also: 27 Cheapest Places Where You'll Really Want to Retire

How We Picked the 50 Best Places to Retire

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To pinpoint one great retirement destination in each state, we weighed a number of factors:

See Also: Best States to Retire 2018: All 50 States Ranked

  • Cost of living for major metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, with data provided by the Council for Community and Economic Research, includes overall costs--across all age groups--for housing, food and groceries, transportation, utilities, health care and miscellaneous expenses. For select cities, cost-of-living data comes from Sperling's Best Places, as noted.

  • Household incomes, poverty rates and number of health care facilities are from the U.S. Census Bureau.

  • Community well-being and physical well-being scores are provided by digital health company Sharecare, in collaboration with Gallup. These are two of the five elements of well-being that make up the overall Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index. (The other three elements are purpose, social and financial well-being.) The index is calculated on a scale of 0 to 100 and based on more than 2.5 million nationally representative surveys. Community well-being is defined as "liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community." Physical well-being is "having good health and enough energy to get things done daily." We display the community score for each place we chose.

  • Population data, including the percentage of the population that is age 65 and older, is also provided by the Census Bureau. The figures, which in almost all cases represent the populations of major metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas that might include multiple cities, are highlighted in these rankings for the benefit of readers, but were not factors in our methodology for ranking the best places to retire.

  • Taxes on retirees, based on Kiplinger's Retiree Tax Map, which divides states into five categories: Most Tax Friendly, Tax Friendly, Mixed, Not Tax Friendly and Least Tax Friendly. This information is provided for the benefit of readers but was not factored into our selections within each state.

See Also: 50 Best Places to Retire in the U.S.


Copyright 2018-2019 The Kiplinger Washington Editors