Happiness and Mountains

I have a thing for 3-D Geography.


From the white rocks of Highlands, NC,



To the red rocks of Sedona;


From Utah’s canyons,



To the Big Grandaddy, the Roof of Africa, Kilimanjaro!

“I lift my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Punctuation is pretty important in this sentence. Without the comma, it sounds as if help comes from the hills. With the comma, it sounds like I need help dealing with the hills. I’ve been on both sides of the comma question, and I like the double meaning. Currently, I live at the beach, and it makes me very happy to see a sunrise over the Atlantic, or a sunset over the bay, but it’s in the mountains that I feel my spirit lift. I just competed in the Luray Triathlon yesterday. Luray is nestled in the Shenandoah Valley, between two mountain ranges. It made for a lovely race, with lots of views of pretty hills and mountains, and some challenging climbs too. I was making that prayer, both for help and in thankfulness!

My sister Jenny told me that she had read that people who live in sight of mountains are the happiest. So, as is the point of this blog, what does the research show?

The OECD does studies of happiness rankings of different countries. Countries like Sweden, Norway, Austria, and interestingly, Colombia, are highly ranked. Countries known more for water, such as the Netherlands and Costa Rica also rank highly. This year Australia takes home the honors. The Kingdom of Bhutan actually measures Gross National Happiness, the same way that in the U.S. we measure Gross National Product.

One study that I thought was fun, was just published this May, in PLoS One, done by Mitchell, Frank, Harris, Dodds, and Danforth of the University of Vermont. They data-mined Twitter for terms with high “happiness content” and mapped them across the U.S. All the western mountainous states did very well, as did Maine. Louisiana, on the other hand, was the saddest state. Hawaii was the winner, with the most and happiest Tweets. Some of their choices for how to denote happiness were interesting; food-related words were considered to have high happiness contest, for example. I totally get that!

It reminded me of the recent Facebook data-mining study, showing that Virginia Beach, here where I live, has the fittest population. This is based on number of Facebook posts about workouts and food. Based on my personal Facebook friend population, I can see how we get that ranking! Okay, so I’ve contributed also 😉

Of course, this doesn’t say whether we are actually the most fit, just that we talk the most about it! The results of self-report studies can be rather dubious for this and other reasons.

However, I’m in total agreement with Hawaii’s ranking:







  1. BettsH@aol.com · · Reply

    Wonderful pictures, Mary. Your help comes from the LORD! Keep ’em coming. Daddy

  2. mwhuntley · · Reply

    Great pictures and interesting thoughts, Mary. Of course Hawaii has mountains and water and mostly fit people. Florida has plenty of water, but not a mountain in sight — we here probably need to lift our sights! Seeing these pictures of you and your family, I’m reminded what beautiful arms and shoulders you and Laura have! Nothing to do with mountains, but maybe with water and certainly with fitness! Love, Mama

  3. What gorgeous pictures! I’m more of a water girl myself. Maybe I should lift my eyes to the seas. 🙂

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