Study: Happiest Cities in Kansas

Read more about Can Money Buy Happiness

There's no place like home, as native Kansans know very well. Surrounded by the happiest flowers (hence the nickname “Sunflower State”) and access to good schools and decent commutes, the residents of certain Kansas cities are happier than others. If you live in Kansas or you're thinking of moving here, take a look at which cities have the sunniest outlook.

Study Methodology

Living in a larger city has its perks but many people prefer the charm of a smaller town. For our study, we concentrated on those Kansas cities with 5,000 residents or more. Using U.S. Census and FBI crime data, we assigned each city a ranking, and the ones that rose to the top of our list earned the best marks overall based on these seven factors:

  1. Restaurants
  2. Crime rate
  3. Commute
  4. Departure time
  5. Income
  6. Divorce rate
  7. Housing

Heading out to dinner with friends or family members is a great way to spend time together while satisfying your appetite. To give you an idea of which cities offer the most variety, we considered the number of restaurants per capita for each location.

Kansas isn't known as a high-crime state, but we know that every city is different. We looked at the odds of being the victim of a violent crime in each city to gauge how safe residents are.

One of the reasons why people prefer smaller cities is the fact that traffic tends to be less of a hassle. Our rankings are based in part on the average commute — you’re more likely to be happy in areas where you don’t have to travel far every day, even if that means just staying put on a farm.

Getting a head start on the day has been linked to an increased sense of happiness by researchers. We thought we'd see what percentage of residents leave for work before 5 a.m. to see if there's any truth to that claim.

You work hard for your money and at the end of the day, you want to feel like you're being compensated appropriately for the effort you put in. To see how residents are doing from a financial standpoint, we looked at each city's median household income.

When you're happily married, it seems to be a little easier to face life's challenges, but you may take a different view when you're divorced. We checked the percentage of men and women divorced in each city as a measure of how satisfied couples are.

Buying a home is the American dream, but if your mortgage payment is significant, money worries may be keeping you up at night. The last thing we considered for our study is the percentage of income residents spend on housing.

10 Happiest Cities in Kansas

10. Leawood

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 638 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 1,808.6
  • Average commute time: 20.1 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 1.1%
  • Median household income: $134,242
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 5% of males, 8.3% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 18.7%

Although it ranks 10th on our list, Leawood sets itself apart as our most affluent city, with residents earning the highest median income overall. About 32,000 people live in this busy suburban community, partly drawn here because of the safe neighborhoods. Aside from a substantial payday, workers also enjoy a relatively brief commute of just 20 minutes. Married couples seem to be happy as the divorce rate is the second lowest in our study.

Did You Know: One of the Leawood area's earliest explorers was famed frontiersman Daniel Boone.

9. Great Bend

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 419 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 170.3
  • Average commute time: 13.5 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 4.2%
  • Median household income: $43,690
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 11.9% of males, 13.4% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 15.7%

About 16,000 people live in Great Bend and from what we can tell, they seem to be pretty positive about their hometown. Homes are incredibly affordable, with residents spending less than 16% of their income on housing. There are quite a few people out on the roads first thing in the morning, and to add to the happiness quotient, the drive to work should take less than 14 minutes on average.

Did You Know: The nearby Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest wetland areas in the interior U.S.

8. Bel Aire

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 2,279 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 2,280.3
  • Average commute time: 16.4 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2.6%
  • Median household income: $69,313
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 4.1% of males, 12.5% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 22.1%

Just under 7,000 people reside in Bel Aire, and this Wichita suburb seems to be a fairly pleasant place. We suspect that the exceptionally low occurrence of violent crime has something to do with why residents are so content, but it probably doesn't hurt that the median income approaches $70,000. There aren't quite as many restaurants in the area compared to some of our other cities, but Bob & Luigi's is a must if you're hungry for a made-to-order pizza pie.

Did You Know: Bel Aire is just minutes from some of Wichita's best attractions, including the Great Plains Nature Center and the Sedgwick County Zoo.

7. Derby

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 560 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 933
  • Average commute time: 19.1 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 5.3%
  • Median household income: $65,837
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 11.8% of males, 12.8% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 19.4%

Derby is another suburb of Wichita. With nearly 23,000 residents, it's quite a bit larger than Bel Aire. You won't spend a fortune on housing and the neighborhoods are exceptionally safe. For the working crowd, Derby is a dream, with an average commute of just over 19 minutes and a median income that exceeds $65,000 annually.

Did You Know: Derby was originally known as El Paso, but its name had to be changed to avoid confusion with the larger Texas city.

6. Garden City

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 509 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 234.9
  • Average commute time: 14.3 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 8.3%
  • Median household income: $45,006
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 9.3% of males, 10% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 21.3%

Garden City placed sixth in our rankings, and its nearly 27,000 residents seem to be pleased as punch to call the city home. Just over 8% of residents get the ball rolling before 5 a.m. and it takes them less than 15 minutes on average to make their way to work. If you're looking for a place to unwind at the end of a long day, Las Margaritas is favored by locals for its flavorful cuisine and friendly service.

Did You Know: The public pool at Garden City's Lee Richardson Zoo takes up half a city a block and holds more than 2 million gallons of water.

5. Liberal

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 527 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 313
  • Average commute time: 15.3 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 5.3%
  • Median household income: $45,891
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 8.4% of males, 8.8% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 18%

Liberal's residents are certainly generous when it comes to handing out praise for their city. Housing is highly affordable and the median income of almost $46,000 isn't too shabby. The car ride to work won't eat up too much of your time either, with about 5% of workers on the road first thing in the morning.

Did You Know: One of Liberal's quirkier attractions is Dorothy's House, a museum and gift shop complete with its own yellow brick road.

4. McPherson

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 367 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 414
  • Average commute time: 11 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 2%
  • Median household income: $54,896
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 9.2% of males, 10.8% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 16.2%

McPherson is a quiet little city of about 13,000 people, and it's no secret why they love living here. Getting to work on time is a breeze since the average commute takes just 11 minutes flat, the shortest time on our list. When it's time to get paid, workers aren't disappointed with a median income of almost $55,000. Neighbors Cafe is a great place to fill up for breakfast or lunch, but if you're in the mood for a steak dinner, Montana Mike's can't be beat.

Did You Know: The McPherson Museum displays several fossils unearthed by Dr. James Z. Gilbert, the first graduate of McPherson College.

3. Dodge City

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 540 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 277.9
  • Average commute time: 13.4 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 8.8%
  • Median household income: $48,519
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 10.2% of males, 9% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 17.1%

Dodge City comes in at number three on our list and there are plenty of grins to go around. Almost 9% the city's 28,000 residents are up before 5 a.m., the second-highest figure in our study. It takes them less than 14 minutes to make it into work on average, and they bring home a median salary of $48,000. About 17% of that goes toward housing, making Dodge City an excellent choice for budget-conscious homebuyers.

Did You Know: Chicago may be called the "Windy City," but Dodge City is actually the windiest, with average speeds of around 14 miles per hour.

2. Abilene

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 356 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 528.8
  • Average commute time: 18.3 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 9.8%
  • Median household income: $52,240
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 12.9% of males, 11.6% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 14.5%

About 6,700 people live in Abilene and all in all, we'd say they're one happy bunch. This charming little city earned the best ranking in three separate categories, with the most restaurants per capita, the lowest housing costs, and the highest percentage of residents leaving before 5 a.m. As if that's not reason enough to love it here, there's also the 18-minute average commute and the median income of more than $52,000.

Did You Know: Before becoming the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower attended Abilene High School.

1. Ulysses

  • Restaurants per capita: 1 per 446 inhabitants
  • Odds of being the victim of a violent crime: 1 in 300
  • Average commute time: 11.6 minutes
  • Percentage of residents leaving for work before 5 a.m.: 4.8%
  • Median household income: $48,141
  • Percentage of residents who are divorced: 6.5% of males, 6.1% of females
  • Percentage of income spent on housing: 15.5%

The roughly 6,200 people who live in Ulysses will be pleased to see that we saved the best for last. Marriages seem to be solid judging by the divorce rate, which is the lowest of our 10 cities. We think workers are probably pretty happy too, based on the median income and the fact that getting to work takes practically no time at all. Whether you own a home here or you rent, housing is a bargain and there are several quiet neighborhoods to choose from.

Did You Know: George Earp, cousin to Wyatt Earp, was the original surveyor of Ulysses and later served as the city's first postmaster before being elected mayor.


By broadening our scope to include smaller towns, we think we've uncovered some hidden gems, but that does mean that bigger cities like Wichita and Topeka didn't make the cut. While both have a lot to offer to families, job-seekers and retirees, the cities that made it to the top of our rankings are ultimately the ones that offer the highest level of satisfaction overall.

The Top 25 Happiest Cities in Kansas

RankCityPeople per Restaurants and BarsViolent Crime OddsAverage Commute Time% Leaving Before 5amMedian Household Income% Male Divorce1% Female Divorce1Income Spent on Housing
1Ulysses445.61 in 300.011.64.8%$48,1416.5%6.1%15.5%
2Abilene356.41 in 528.818.39.8%$52,24012.9%11.6%14.5%
3Dodge City539.91 in 277.913.48.8%$48,51910.2%9.0%17.1%
4McPherson367.21 in 414.0112.0%$54,8969.2%10.8%16.2%
5Liberal527.11 in 313.015.35.3%$45,8918.4%8.8%18%
6Garden City509.21 in 234.914.38.3%$45,0069.3%10.0%21.3%
7Derby559.61 in 933.019.15.3%$65,83711.8%12.8%19.4%
8Bel Aire2,279.31 in 2,280.316.42.6%$69,3134.1%12.5%22.1%
9Great Bend419.01 in 170.313.54.2%$43,69011.9%13.4%15.7%
10Leawood638.01 in 1,808.620.11.1%$134,2425.0%8.3%18.7%
11Pratt382.21 in 275.412.95.4%$39,40511.4%7.7%18.5%
12Andover576.11 in 910.718.42.4%$84,2806.8%13.7%19.2%
13Concordia354.71 in 177.69.92.4%$37,6756.1%11.9%16%
14Park City744.61 in 567.220.16.7%$57,2529.8%15.3%20.6%
15Paola185.01 in 432.223.711.9%$50,6728.3%12.4%21.9%
16Atchison342.31 in 224.516.65.6%$41,94912.2%12.9%17.1%
17Mulvane783.41 in 769.822.83.1%$68,46212.3%13.6%15.4%
18Shawnee605.91 in 747.6212.8%$73,3419.3%11.9%20.3%
19Lenexa520.01 in 848.719.41.4%$75,0919.2%11.6%20.3%
20Valley Center1,393.01 in 862.017.32.9%$54,1679.0%13.0%21.9%
21Overland Park445.11 in 621.420.11.5%$72,0747.8%13.7%19.6%
22Hays276.21 in 212.510.81.6%$43,3769.2%10.5%20.3%
23Prairie Village659.71 in 1,685.119.40.7%$83,8489.2%16.9%18.1%
24Haysville1,564.41 in 254.420.54.7%$54,8049.8%15.7%19.1%
25Olathe604.91 in 673.120.92.5%$76,8828.2%12.4%21.4%

1Treated as one combined metric for ranking purposes (at a 50:50 male to female ratio).

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Rebecca Lake at rebecca@creditdonkey.com. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped consumers make savvy decisions. (read more)

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Comments about Study: Happiest Cities in Kansas

  • Shirley Cole from Kansas
    on October 6, 2014 8:34 AM said:

    We have lived in Ulysses since 1960 and raised 3 children here! Absolutely love it here!

  • Deeder
    on October 9, 2014 12:11 AM said:

    I was raised in Mcpherson, and now I am Raising my four children here in good Ole Mac! I wouldn't move for any thing. ... Happiness is a must!!I Never leave my home without a smilE even on my worst days.. There's no time for negativity... I like to think, happiness is contagious!!So Keep smiling and keep laughing yalls!

  • Debra from Kansas
    on April 14, 2016 5:59 AM said:

    I have to disagree on a #4 vote for McPherson. Yes it is fairly safe, yes the school system is ok and it doesn't take long to get to work. I find it hard to believe median income is $54,896 - would like to see where those numbers were construed from. There are job opportunities but not that many that pay above $50,000. Also, restaurant choices are the worst. A lot of chain restaurants - Neighbors Café is good for breakfast but, is only open certain hours and fights to stay open. Stores are closed at night and on Sundays. Plus, this is the clickiest city ever. they do not welcome newcomers to get involved but turn their nose to you. Crime rate is better than others, but is still existent. The hospital and what it has to offer is behind times, and will not bring in specialty Drs on a permanent basis. They come once a week or every other week which makes it hard to see someone when needed. There have got to be a lot other towns that deserve to be in the top other than McPherson Kansas! It is ok to live there, but, nothing great unless you like to be limited.

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