Two conclusions from recent studies strike me as...well...interesting.
Conclusion #1: Louisiana ranks as the worst state in the U.S. for overall quality of life.
Conclusion #2: Louisiana ranks as the "Happiest State" in the U.S.
Methodology aside, both conclusions have merit. Louisiana is a corrupt state, sometimes unabashedly and unapologetically so. That leads to insufficient infrastructure--poor schools, a lack of funds for important government programs as money gets shoveled to cronies and cousins rather than to the public where it belongs, and businesses left to fend for themselves in a state with few exports. People talk trash about New Orleans, but the corruption is everywhere. Just do a quick google search of the scandals surrounding the Louisiana Public Service Commission, and you'll see that in Baton Rouge "who you know" means so much more than "what you know."
But Louisiana is also a state where people have fought to maintain a highly satisfying way of life that's counter to the fast-paced, million-dollar-paycheck culture we've come to accept in the rest of the U.S. In Louisiana, food, family, and community are generally prioritized over money and prestige (unless you're in govt., of course). People look out for and genuinely enjoy one another, and the hours are marked by Abita beers consumed, stories told, and the number of friends who stop by. It's a place where you're well-regarded so long as you're just being yourself--the local heroes are the folks who are the kookiest and also the most comfortable with their eccentricities. (See Granny Cart Lady to the left. She attended Tulane classes...and got kicked out of Tulane classes...on and off and would show up at many a Mardi Gras parade. R.I.P. GCL)
It's impossible to be alone in New Orleans...even and especially after a Category 5 hurricane comes knocking down your door. Everyone is your friend, and every day is a special occasion to be celebrated.
I can come up with a handful of hypothesis that explain these seemingly incongruous conclusions, but each of them would oversimplify the deep memory and collective soul of a place as diverse and storied as New Orleans. Instead, I'll just think about the following: Residents of New Orleans and the inhabitants of Louisiana in general largely came to the state with their own unique culture and history, and settled there as a place of last resort. Over time they have struggled together to thrive, rather than just survive, in an inhospitable place prone to swampy conditions, hurricanes, and the rampant abuses of the oldest Good Ole' Boy network in the U.S. And together, they have come to conclude--among many, many other things--that every day is a gift to be shared with loved ones and enjoyed, rather than wasted on 15-hour work days and superficial pursuits. They have created their own happiness out dire circumstances. In sum, we could all learn something about happiness from the bunch of drunken, garrulous 'yats that I'm proud to call my own.