According to a Gallup poll, West Virginia residents had the lowest well-being score in the U.S. for the fifth year in a row. The Gallup-Healthway's Well-Being Index rates states in six categories; life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities. I've lived here five years or so. Here's my personal theory why we're so seemingly miserable.
As for life evaluation and emotional health, our discontent and self-loathing comes from social stereotypes reinforced by the media and baited by us. "Reality" shows and documentaries depicting West Virginians as a bunch of bickering backwoods vermin blasting buckshot at each other over ginseng, pain pills and moonshine make me cringe. We are not a bunch of illiterate inbred nitwits. Why do we tolerate being taunted with incessant incestuous stereotypes and depictions of us as slack-jawed numbskulls? We belittle the strength of character and commonsense of our kinfolk by playing bit parts in the denigration of our heritage. In that respect, I'm dispirited
Work environment in West Virginia is a delicate topic. People misunderstand us and our way of life. One fact is rarely disputed though. We are honest, hard-working folks. Unfortunately, we've been brainwashed to believe we're blessed to have ANY job at all, even if it kills us. I remember when "West Virginia, open for business" signs welcomed visitors to the state. As a resident, I saw "We'll bend over for jobs." There's no denying the economy here is dreadful. It always has been. We weren't blindsided by the great recession. We've lived with it for generations. Yes, leaders need to attract well-paying jobs to our state. Expectantly, jobs that don't involve poisoning people or plundering our ecological pride and joy. So work is another worrisome concern of mine.
The categories of physical health and healthy behaviors are synonymous. One weights the other, literally. We're overweight and unhealthy folks. In West Virginia, cigarettes are cheaper than a gallon of milk. Mountain Dew is the unofficial state beverage. Dollar burgers and fries nourish more families nightly than nutritious meat and taters. The freshest and healthiest harvests, game birds, fish, and animals abound around us. The problem is, it takes exertion (or exercise) to obtain. It's a hard row to hoe for what's good for us. We have to dig the dirt, load a rifle, walk a trail, and be willing to work for it. My grandma said, "Give a man a packet of seeds and a patch of land and he can survive in West Virginia." The only additive in her home cooked meals was bacon grease. Wise, tiny, and healthy woman!
Finally, ease of access to basic necessities depends on what you consider indispensable and necessary, I reckon. Folks drive considerable distances to gamble, shoot pool, enjoy exotic dancers, get tattooed, buy drugs, or commit adultery with nary a grumble. Yet they'll complain bitterly about the inconvenience of taking an ailing neighbor or family member to the doctor or grocery store. Sure, critical services aren't always at arm's length in West Virginia but we're reimbursed with solitude city dwellers would envy. West Virginians take pride in cultivating a culture of caring. We'd be happier going the extra mile to help each other when it's not convenient than whine about it.
Anyway, that's my opinion. This is fact. There's an expected and harmonious tradeoff when you live in a state of well-being called West Virginia. Unless you're in prison, no one ought to live here without enthusiasm. The scenic sensations we take for granted just going through the sometimes monotonous motions of everyday life here would thrill the coveralls off people living in states with greater levels of well-being.
When blissful folks living well-off elsewhere retire to "Almost Heaven" before heading home to the real place, I won't be a bit surprised.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Shock is a creative associate at LBSPY, an arts and entertainment magazine in Lewisburg, W.Va. He is a Gilmer County native.