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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Two of the happiest U.S. states? Washington and Idaho

UPDATED: Sun., Oct. 11, 2020

A kayaker paddles on the Spokane River through the University District where leaves are just beginning the change to their fall colors Tuesday.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
A kayaker paddles on the Spokane River through the University District where leaves are just beginning the change to their fall colors Tuesday. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Washington and Idaho are top-tier states for those looking for a pleasant existence. According to a recent study by Wallethub, Washington ranks 15th for happiest place in the country to live and Idaho is ninth. The methodology used tapped into three dimensions: emotional and physical well-being, work environment and community and environment.

Some of the statistics for Washington are 24th for career well-being, eighth for adequate sleep rate and job satisfaction, 43rd for share of adult depression, second for sports-participation rate, seventh for life expectancy, 11th for safety, 20th for ideal weather and ninth lowest for positive COVID-19 testing rate in the four weeks prior to the study, which was completed about a month ago.

Some of the stats for Idaho are first for ideal weather, 23rd for career well-being, 16th for adequate sleep rate, first for job satisfaction, 24th for share of adult depression, ninth for sports-participation rate, 23rd for life expectancy, 20th for safety and 37th for lowest positive COVID-19 testing rate for the last four weeks,

That’s where Washington and Idaho stand, but what makes Spokane and North Idaho such great places to live? A number of locals reveal what makes them happy residing in the area.

Spokane has been home base for 53 of Denny LaRue’s 60 years. However, LaRue is hardly provincial. The retired NHL referee has experienced some of the most cosmopolitan cities in North America, as well as myriad small towns while working the minor league hockey circuit. However, it’s obvious that LaRue is most pleased in Spokane.

“I’ve had the luxury of traveling to some of the most beautiful cities in the country,” LaRue said while calling from his downtown condo. “But I’ve never found a better city than Spokane. I’ve never been inclined to move away. What makes me so happy here is all of the lakes and the mountains. If you’re outdoorsy at all, how can you not enjoy yourself in Spokane? You have hiking, biking, skiing, and I enjoy golf, and the golf courses in the area are great.

“There is no place nicer than Spokane. Part of what makes it so great is the community. I love the citizenship. It’s different than a lot of places. People are kind, and that perpetuates from generation to generation. It’s great how we help each other out here.”

Lynn Meyers, who grew up in West Central and now lives on the South Side, concurs with LaRue. “Neighbors watching out for each other is pretty normal here,” Meyers said. “I love that. It is a fairly big city but lives like a small town. If you’re broken down by the side of the road, multiple people will stop to help. They’ll push you out of a snow berm, help you change a tire, let you use their cellphone. That’s pretty normal here.”

The weather and the outdoor activity are another reason the retired teacher was happy to return to Spokane after living in Juneau, Alaska, for a dozen years.

“Even though we’ve had some wacky ups and downs with the climate, in general, the four seasons here are distinct enough to give a great variety,” Meyers said. “Fall color but no humidity like back East. There’s usually plenty of snow for skiing. There’s unpredictable spring weather, but it always includes at least a few heavenly days with blue sky, 70 degrees and lilacs reliably blooming in May.

“Summer is long enough to grow tomatoes if you learn a few tricks. There are plenty of lakes, golf courses and hiking trails. There are lots of great green urban spaces to get out and enjoy Mother Nature, too: Manito Park, Riverfront Park, Finch Arboretum. The entire park system has a little something for every neighborhood.”

Spokane is obviously growing. Many cities that have burgeoned, such as Austin and Phoenix, have gridlock. However, that’s not an issue in Spokane yet, and that’s one of the reasons Dick McDougall is fine with his town. “As far as Spokane making me happy, there’s the population size and mild traffic. Traffic has gotten worse, but it’s nowhere near the insanity of Portland or Seattle. I lived in both of those towns.”

Spokane’s metamorphosis and entertainment scene bring a smile to McDougall’s face. “The happiest happening about Spokane has to be the transformation in the ‘70s with Expo ‘74, the world’s fair. This city went from a fairly rough ‘pass-through’ town with a huge, ugly railroad yard in the center of it to an incredibly impressive and improved center back then.

“Now there is the Riverfront area and a truly excellent opera house, now the First Interstate Center for the Arts . I’ve seen a lot of great artists there, from Ray Charles to Bonnie Raitt to Jeff Beck. The Fox has to be the finest in this city, period – interior to die for.”

McDougall, 70, who lives off Aubrey L. White Parkway, waxed enthusiastically until he dealt with the reality that the venues are shuttered.

Spokane Symphony trumpeter Chris Cook is happy to be a Spokane resident but is just as bummed as McDougall due to the coronavirus. “The timing of the survey couldn’t be worse,” Cook said. “Most of the things that make me happiest about living in Spokane won’t resume until Phase 4.

“My career with the Spokane Symphony is on hold, likely until September of 2021. For the same reason, I’m not able to go out and enjoy Spokane’s live music scene and support my favorite local bands. … We have cherished the days when the weather allows us to check out the patios of our favorite restaurants, breweries and cideries.”

North Idaho also has much to offer the locals.

There is no place that Sandpoint’s Dig Chrismer, the marketing manager of Schweitzer Mountain, would rather be. “For me, it’s a mix of small-town living with big adventures all around me,” Chrismer said.

“We get to play in the lake, hike, bike, ski, explore and breathe. It’s amazing. Then, you come home to a small town where everyone knows you, or of you, and it takes too long in the grocery store because you end up talking to everyone. It’s a great mix. My kids hate it and can’t wait to leave, but I know they’ll be back.”

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