Utahns optimistic about their communities – why?


Do Utahns have greater hopes for the future than people in other states? In creating the ratings for its well-being index, Gallup found that Utahns rank first in city optimism, meaning they believe “the city or area where they live is getting better as a place to live.” Utah also ranked ninth among the states for overall well-being.

We interviewed two government leaders – Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love – and Professor Lisa Aspinwall of the University of Utah to find out why they think Utahns are so optimistic about their future in our state. Watch this video report to learn more:


What do you think? Are you optimistic about Utah’s future? If so, why?

Here’s the script for the video:

VOICE-OVER: According to a Gallup poll that came out in March 2011, Utah ranks No. 1 in city optimism. This ranking raises the question: why? We asked Governor Gary Herbert to explain why he thinks Utahns are so optimistic.

GOVERNOR GARY HERBERT: “We are excelling in many, many areas; our economy is growing at three times the national average. Our unemployment rate, which is still too high, is still below the national average by 1.5 points. I think there is a lot of reasons to be optimistic as you look towards the future of Utah, certainly in comparison with other states and certainly the country.”

VOICE-OVER: The question Gallup asked was: Is the city or area where you live getting better or getting worse as a place to live? Governor Herbert credits Utah’s people and its government for Utahns’ positive responses.

GOVERNOR HERBERT: “I think they feel good about the future for a number of reasons. One, I think, they like their neighbors; we have good people. We are No. 1 in volunteerism, people really do help and care about each other, and that’s unique to Utah. Secondly, I think they’re optimistic because they like their state government and their local governments that are pretty fiscally prudent. We don’t live beyond our means; we don’t spend more than we take in; we’ve been very fiscally prudent with the taxpayers’ dollars.”

VOICE-OVER: Mayor Mia Love of Saratoga Springs believes that when elected leaders get Utah residents more involved in the public decision-making process, it can also contributes to increased optimism by helping address real, local problems.

MAYOR MIA LOVE: “The more they get the residents involved in what’s going on in local government, the more they get the input of that resident and the more they can listen to them and figure out what they really need in their cities.”

VOICE-OVER: Professor Lisa Aspinwall, head of the psychology department at the University of Utah, thinks that Utahns’ financial status is also a factor.

PROFESSOR LISA ASPINWALL: “You don’t have the income disparities that you have in other places, and so one of the biggest things that determines how happy people are with their material circumstances is whether there is a big gap between what they have and what other people have.”

VOICE-OVER: But other states certainly have some or all of these same attributes, so what is it about Utah that makes it different from other states?

MAYOR LOVE: “Utah has got different values; we are very family-oriented. Utah is one of the greatest places to live because of that reason.”

GOVERNOR HERBERT: “It’s been self-reliance. We have learned to be self-reliant; we are not relying on government – our big brother – to bail us out or to help us, and I think that’s another one of our secrets of success.”

VOICE-OVER: So does Utahns’ high optimism simply mean that they feel good about life, or does it carry practical value for Utah communities and society as a whole? Professor Aspinwall believes the practical value is real.

PROFESSOR ASPINWALL: “It says a lot culturally that people see things as improving and likely to get better. Because once those beliefs are in place, people will continue taking actions to keep the good things that they have. Whereas if people believe that things are getting worse and never going to improve, that there isn’t much reason to continue to invest socially or financially in a community.”

VOICE-OVER: And Governor Herbert adds:

GOVERNOR HERBERT: “That’s just Utah; that’s just how we feel. We’re optimistic people. We think the future is a reason to be optimistic and to be happy and bright, and we’re trying to make sure that we do our part to make sure that is so.”

VOICE-OVER: Of course, just because Utahns are the most optimistic in the country today does not guarantee high optimism in the future. What can policymakers do so that Utah communities continue to reap the benefits of high optimism? Based on her experience in Saratoga Springs, Mayor Love thinks she has the answer.

MAYOR LOVE: “The best thing that I can do as a mayor and that I have done as mayor is stay out of people’s lives. You have to sit when you’re an elected official and ask yourself what is the proper role of government, and if you really do that, then people are happier because they get to make their own decisions.”

VOICE-OVER: For Sutherland Institute, I’m Alexis Young.