Are happy people nicer?

According to geographical personality mapping, Nevada residents are highly open but not agreeable.
According to geographical personality mapping, Nevada residents are highly open but not agreeable.
Dennis Flaherty/Getty Images

Where do the nicest people live in the United States? According to sociological stereotypes, tourists shouldn't expect to be greeted by warm smiles and handshakes if they travel to New York City. Heading down to the opposite end of the country, perhaps they might enjoy a heaping helping of traditional southern hospitality. Or if they have Pacific Ocean scenery in mind, folks on the West Coast supposedly have a laid back aura about them.

In an effort to sort out whether the geographic-specific traits hold true, a set of researchers from the University of California at Berkeley administered personality surveys to more than 600,000 people in every state. The results ranked each state according to five qualities: neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, openness and conscientiousness.

It turns out that our stereotypes hit astonishingly close to the mark. Georgia, for example, ranks as the sixth most extroverted state, while New York hovers at number 32 [source: Renfrow, Gosling and Potter]. You're also more apt to find open-minded people to hang ten with in California, though they might not be very agreeable. Moreover, these personality traits translate into some compelling statistics. Minnesota, North Dakota and Utah are among the most agreeable states and also have low crime rates. In the neurotic Northeast, residents experience more heart-related health problems [source: Simon].

Geographical personality mapping like the Berkeley experiment is an interesting example of the interaction between psychological traits and states. Psychologists refer to our momentary, fleeting emotions that ebb and flow throughout the day as states. At the end of a nerve-wracking business meeting, your emotional state may be exasperated or anxious. When college students finish up their final exams, they probably experience emotional states of joy and relief. Traits, on the other hand, are more permanent. Specifically, they're the underlying emotional characteristics that constitute parts of your unique identity [source: Helliwell and Putnam].

A common personality trait is "nice." One can assume that someone with a nice personality performs unsolicited acts of kindness for others, exhibits selflessness and avoids being judgmental. Where does that positive personality come from? Does a happy state make for a nicer trait?