The happiest guy in America

SUBHEAD: Meet Alvin Wong, a oriental, senior, self-employed, jewish, Hawaiian.  

By Kim Corollo on 8 March 2011 for ABC News -  

Image above: Alvin Wong and his wife Trudy Schandler-Wong at East-West Center in Honolulu. From (

Alvin Wong always considered himself a happy guy.

"I get up in the morning and say, 'I'm very fortunate. I'm living in Hawaii, doing what I want to do,'" Wong said.

But when Wong, 69, learned he is the exact statistical composite of the happiest person in America, he wasn't sure what to think.

"When The New York Times called and read off all the information about who this person is, I asked if it was a practical joke."

According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, the happiest person in America is a tall, Asian-American male 65 or older, a resident of Hawaii who's married with children, religious (observant Jews score highest), owns a business and earns more than $120,000 a year -- in other words, it's Alvin Wong to a tee.

"A person fitting the happiest profile is likely to have high optimism, good emotional health with little anger, depression, and stress, and no underlying chronic illnesses. This person is likely to eating right and exercise regularly, while working in a supportive environment with good access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables, a safe place to exercise, and good access to health care. The person is also likely to be older and better established with enough money to live comfortably," said John Harris, vice president of Innovations at Healthways.

Wong, who owns a health care management firm, and said owning his own business has different stresses, such as not knowing whether clients will stick with him, but overall, it's very satisfying.

"I enjoy doing stuff for myself and seeing the fruits of my labor," he said.

Back in 2008, Gallup, a firm known for its research polls; and Healthways, a company focusing on research aimed at improving overall health and lowering associated costs, started calling thousands of Americans a night. They asked questions about six different dimensions of well-being: a basic evaluation of life, emotional and physical health, work environment, engaging in a healthy lifestyle and whether access to basic health services is available.

They then developed a well-being index for each state and each congressional district.

Data from the 2010 index show that Hawaii had the highest well-being score and West Virginia had the lowest.

After ABC News requested a statistical profile of the saddest person in America, Healthways found just about the polar opposite of Alvin Wong in every way: a woman between the ages of 45 and 64 who lives in the Huntington, West Virginia area, has an annual household income of less than $1,000 a month and is likely unemployed and looking for work. She is of "other" ethnicity, meaning a Pacific Islander, a native Hawaiian, a Native American or a person of mixed race. She is also separated with no children.

"West Virginia ranks at the bottom in almost every domain," said Nikki Duggan, Director of Well-Being Operations and Analytics at Healthways.

"Our goal was to measure health in a way that's very different than what's historically done," said Healthways Chief Executive Officer Ben Leedle. "Along with Gallup, we saw a more holistic definition, including not just the physical dimension of health, but the emotional and social dimension of health."

Among the most notable trends the data show is that satisfaction at work decreased between 2008 and 2010.

"We're very concerned about that domain," said Harris. "With the economy and other factors, people are becoming less happy at work, and that can have a very big effect on communities and the global market."

In addition to the economy, Healthways hopes the data bring help bring about major changes in policy in other areas, like education and health.

"These are causal data. These are the things that cause disease," said Leedle. "We believe that healthier people cost less and perform better."

The vast majority of Americans fall somewhere between the two emotional extremes. For people who want to move a bit closer to the happy side, Wong has some simple advice.

"There are always tough times. You get through it by realizing it's happened, laughing at the situation and finding a way to fix it. I've lived my whole life with humor in it."

[IB Editor's note: This may only be true if Honolulu continues to be assisted by a "Marshal Plan" of support from mainland America. Once the banks are closed, shelves are empty, and pumps are dry, Alvin may not be so happy.]

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