Houston needs to lighten up a little, sheesh. Photo by Rome Wilkerson on Unsplash

Not-so-happy news for Texans living in Houston – they're living in one of the "unhappiest" cities in the nation.

A recent SmartAsset study ranked Houston the No. 81 happiest city in the U.S., based on an analysis of 90 large cities for their residents' quality of life, well being, and personal finances.

The city's rank in the bottom 10 — alongside Texas neighbors Dallas (No. 80), El Paso (No. 83), and Laredo (No. 89) – shows not everything about Houston is as easygoing as people think it is. We can hear Ken Hoffman's disagreement from here.

The study found 28.5 percent of all Houston households make a six-figure salary or more, and 16.2 percent of residents are burdened by their housing costs. Houston's poverty rate is 20.7 percent, so maybe it really is more difficult to live comfortably in the city, after all.

Houston has a marriage rate of 39.4 percent, and its residents have a life expectancy of 79 years old. Nearly 76 percent of residents have health insurance, and a Houstonian has nearly five "mentally unhealthy" days per month on average.

Our beloved city has had some bad press recently: H-Town isn't exactly revered for having the best drivers; the city and its suburbs are apparently less appealing for new residents making the move to Texas; and its popularity in the tech industry seems to be waning.

It's not all doom and gloom, though. There's always plenty of new restaurants to try, our city's inventive art scene remains unmatched, and plenty of hometown hero celebrities, Hall of Fame athletes, and talented musicians praise Houston for its culture and hospitality.

While money can't necessarily buy happiness, SmartAsset suggests that having a higher quality of life can influence a person's financial decisions, therefore leading to a greater probability of beneficial outcomes. Of course, that's assuming high financial literacy and strong money management skills.

"Depending where you live, certain quality of life factors, including metrics like life expectancy, infrastructure and the rate of marriage, can ultimately impact your happiness," the report's author wrote.

Elsewhere in Texas, the Dallas suburb of Plano soared to the top as the No. 2 happiest city in the nation. More than half (52.5 percent) of all Plano households make a six-figure salary or more, and only 12.1 percent of residents are burdened by their housing costs. Plano's poverty rate is less than five percent, its marriage rate is 56 percent, and nearly 90 percent of Plano residents have health insurance.

Other Texas cities that earned spots in the report, that notably aren't as happy as Plano, include: Fort Worth (No. 38), Arlington (No. 47), Irving (No. 64), Austin (No. 65), San Antonio (No. 70), Corpus Christi (No. 77), and Lubbock (No. 78).

The top 10 happiest cities in the U.S. are:

  • No. 1 – Arlington, Virginia
  • No. 2 – Plano, Texas
  • No. 3 – Fremont, California
  • No. 4 – San Jose, California
  • No. 5 – Seattle, Washington
  • No. 6 – Boise City, Idaho
  • No. 7 – Raleigh, North Carolina
  • No. 8 – Chesapeake, Virginia
  • No. 9 – San Francisco, California
  • No. 10 – Anchorage, Alaska
The report ranked the 90 most populous U.S. cities based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau 1-Year American Community Survey for 2022 and from the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps for 2023. Data that factored into each city's ranking included a city's household income, poverty level, life expectancy, health insurance rates, marriage rates, overcrowding rates, and more.The full report and its methodology can be found on smartasset.com

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

A Houston innovator has created a video game that teaches users money fundamentals. Image via eyf.money

Houston startup launches gamified financial education tool

let's play

The fact that the average American would struggle to cover a $400 emergency expense is a sign that there’s a dire need for a better understanding of financial literacy in this country.

But where is the proper starting point? What is the best age to start learning about debt, credit, inflation, loans, stocks, index funds, and personal finance?

According to Grant Watkins, founder of Earn Your Freedom, or EYF, and the startup’s new educational video game, Money Quest, the best time for people to start learning the basics of personal finance and economics is when they’re young.

“I stress to kids that the biggest advantage they have right now is their youth,” says former salesman turned entrepreneur Watkins. “If nothing else, I want kids to play our game to learn the value of compound interest. They’re young, so they should start early, plan early, be strategic, and have fun, life isn’t just all work. But the more you invest early, the more you’re going to have later.”

After realizing that it was best to teach solid financial principles to young people, it was a no-brainer to reach the conclusion that the best way for them to learn was via an educational video game.

That’s where Money Quest comes in.

The innovative and interactive web and mobile video game, which officially launched this month to celebrate Financial Literacy Month, was designed to help kids build a strong foundation in money management, economics and investment in a fun and engaging way. It features challenges and real-world scenarios such as renting a first apartment, opening a first bank account, budgeting at the grocery store, buying stocks and index funds and renting or buying real estate.

All of this is set up in the game’s imaginary city called Prosperity Point.

But before Watkins was able to get to his own Prosperity Point, he was in dire straits financially himself.

At only 27 years old, the native of Katy, Texas, and graduate of Oral Roberts University, found himself trying to get his own personal finances in order three or four years ago and quickly realized that had he been taught how to be an adult and all of the different financial obligations that come with that, it could have saved him from racking up thousands of dollars in debt and making other costly financial mistakes.

“After diving into it, I said, ‘Well, this is a pain, but I bet whoever solves this problem, it would be pretty great for them and everyone else in society,’” says Watkins, who lived in Beijing, China and worked in contract sales, before moving back to the United States. “So, I started working on this idea for Money Quest with the central focus on how I could make financial literacy more engaging?”

With the thread of an idea, Watkins joined Houston’s startup community in August 2021 and began to pull at it and after a prompt from Gamification Advisor Cal Miller, began learning how to code so he could build out his educational video game.

“After getting to the point where it was apparent that I couldn’t afford to get someone else to do it, I rolled up my sleeves and started teaching myself how to code,” says Watkins. “I learned it from free resources like Free Code Camp and Code Academy and we started building it in this specific programming language that we built this game in and just started from scratch.

“We went from one little house, to building an 8-bit character, to building out a road, to now it’s grown into a full-fledged city, with banks and grocery stores and cafes.”

For Watkins, half of his job is building the game and the other half is learning how to be better at building it.

When it came time to market Money Quest, he turned to CMO Keely McEnery, a 22-year-old student at the University of Houston’s Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship.

“Grant is a very smart, driven person, so I’m happy to be on this team, we complement each other very well,” says McEnery. “Money Quest is still a work in progress, it has come a long way since the beginning. Moving forward, we are going to be adding content to the game on a monthly basis and always creating more value.”

The partnership between Watkins and McEnery came at the right time because Texas has started passing laws like Texas Senate Bill 1063, which requires a semester of financial literacy in schools.

“Before COVID-19, there were only three states that had any sort of financial literacy requirements,” says Watkins. “But now, post-COVID, there’s 17 states that have already passed or are in the process of passing financial literacy bills.”

To that end, EYF is working diligently to make sure Money Quest meets the requirements of school curriculums across the country.

“All the studies coming out right now about gaming and education are overwhelmingly positive,” says McEnery. “With things like higher retention rates through gaming education. In fact, it’s dramatically higher.”

In addition to working with the Texas Education Agency and school districts like HISD all over the state of Texas, Watkins and team are working with banks that want to connect with their local high schools and middle schools to talk about financial literacy.

“We’re that perfect partner to connect with those schools and banks,” says Watkins. “They need to work with us because of Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) credits and it makes it a lot easier to connect with their local communities using us instead of just using pamphlets.”

As Watkins continues to bring Money Quest to the masses, he’s experimenting with creative ways for supporters of the game to get involved such as purchasing special NPC’s.

But as EYF builds its game’s brand recognition and begins to proliferate school curriculums, Watkins remains steadfast in his original goal to empower the next generation with the knowledge and skills to achieve financial freedom, which is the best kind of freedom as far as he’s concerned.

“At the end of the day, I want kids to learn to use money wisely, and not blow all their money in their 20s and get into high debt,” says Watkins. “I want to see them learn to be very strategic with their money from the beginning because not doing so will have repercussions down the line.

“I want to instill in them the importance of financial responsibility, smart money management, and economic literacy, so they can build a better financial future for themselves and their communities.”

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Energy giant announces deal retail company to bring EV tech to Houston malls

coming soon

Two Houston-area malls will be getting bp's electric vehicle charging technology thanks to a new global collaboration.

The global energy company will be bringing its global EV charging business, bp pulse, to 75 shopping facilities across the country thanks to a partnership with Simon Malls. Two malls in town — The Galleria and Katy Mills Mall — soon see bp's EV charging Gigahubs. The company will install and operate the chargers at the two area sites.

The deal aims to deliver over 900 ultra-fast charging bays that will support most make and model of EVs with the first locations opening to the public in early 2026. Other Texas locations include Grapevine Mills in Grapevine, and Austin’s Barton Creek Square.

“We’re pleased to complete this deal with Simon and expand our ultra-fast charging network footprint in the U.S.,” Richard Bartlett, CEO of bp pulse, says in a news release. “The Simon portfolio aligns with bp pulse’s strategy to deploy ultra-fast charging across the West Coast, East Coast, Sun Belt and Great Lakes, and we are thrilled to team up with Simon so that EV drivers have a range of retail offerings at their impressive destinations.”

Last month, bp pulse opened a EV charging station at its North American headquarters in Houston. The company plans to continue deployment of additional charging points at high-demand spots like major metropolitan areas, bp-owned properties, and airports, according to bp.

“As a committed long term infrastructure player with a global network of EV charging solutions, bp pulse intends to continue to seek and build transformative industry collaborations in real estate required to scale our network and match the demand of current and future EV drivers,” Sujay Sharma, CEO bp pulse Americas, adds.

Houston space tech company reaches major milestone for engine technology

fired up

A Houston company that's creating the next generation of space exploration technology is celebrating a new milestone of one of its technologies.

Intuitive Machines reports that its VR900 completed a full-duration hot-fire test, qualifying it for its IM-2 lunar mission. With the qualification, the company says its VR3500, an engine designed for larger cargo class landers, also advances in development.

The engine technology is designed, 3D-printed, and tested all at Intuitive Machines' Houston facility, which opened in the Houston Spaceport last year.

Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus says in a news release that the company's goal was to lead the way in scalable deep space engines as the industry heads toward lunar missions.

“This validated engine design meets current mission demand and paves the way for our VR3500 engine for cargo delivery such as lunar terrain vehicles, human spaceflight cargo resupply, and other infrastructure delivery," Altemus continues. "We believe we’re in a prime position to build on our successful development and apply that technology toward current contracts and future lunar requirements for infrastructure delivery.”

Earlier this year, Intuitive Machines was one of one of three companies selected for a $30 million NASA contract for the initial phase of developing a rover for U.S. astronauts to traverse the moon’s surface.

Another Houston company has seen success with its engine testing. In March, Venus Aerospace announced that it's successfully ran the first long-duration engine test of their Rotating Detonation Rocket Engine in partnership with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Houston is the most stressed out city in Texas, report finds

deep breaths

Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but a new report by WalletHub shows Houston residents are far more stressed out than any other city in Texas.

Houston ranked No. 18 out of 182 of the largest U.S. cities based on work, financial, family-related, and health and safety stress, according to WalletHub's "Most & Least Stressed Cities in America (2024)" report. 39 relevant metrics were considered in the report, including each city's job security, the share of households behind on bills within the last 12 months, divorce rates, crime rates, among others.

Houston was ranked the most stressed out city in Texas, but it's still far less stressed than many other U.S. cities. Cleveland, Ohio took first place as the most stressed city in America, followed by Detroit, Michigan (No. 2), Baltimore, Maryland (No. 3), Memphis, Tennessee (No. 4), and Gulfport, Mississippi (No. 5).

Out of the four main categories, Houstonians are struggling the most with work-related stress, ranking No. 13 nationally. The report found Houston has the No. 1 highest traffic congestion rate out of all cities in the report. But at least Houston drivers are solidly average, as maintained by a separate Forbes study comparing the worst drivers in America.

Houston workers can rejoice that they live in a city with a generally high level of guaranteed employment, as the city ranked No. 151 in the job security comparison. The city ranked No. 16 nationwide in the metric for the highest average weekly hours worked.

Houston fared best in the financial stress category, coming in at No. 72 nationally, showing that Houstonians aren't as worried about pinching pennies when it comes to maintaining a good quality of life. The city ranked No. 39 in the comparison of highest poverty rates.

Here's how WalletHub quantified Houston's stress levels:

  • No. 17 – Health and safety stress rank (overall)
  • No. 36 – Family stress rank (overall)
  • No. 63 – Unemployment rates
  • No. 81 – Percentage of adults in fair/poor health
  • No. 95 – Divorce rate
  • No. 96 – Percentage of adults with inadequate sleep

WalletHub analyst Cassandra Happe said in the report that living in particularly arduous cities can play a big role in how stressed a person is, especially when considering uncontrollable circumstances like family problems or work-related issues.

"Cities with high crime rates, weak economies, less effective public health and congested transportation systems naturally lead to elevated stress levels for residents," Happe said.

Happe advised that residents considering a move to a place like Houston should consider how the city's quality of life will impact their mental health, not just their financial wellbeing.

Other Texas cities that ranked among the top 100 most stressed cities in the U.S. are:

  • No. 20 – San Antonio
  • No. 38 – Laredo
  • No. 41 – Dallas
  • No. 47 – Corpus Christi
  • No. 61 – El Paso
  • No. 68 – Fort Worth
  • No. 71 – Brownsville
  • No. 75 – Arlington
  • No. 78 – Grand Prairie
  • No. 88 – Garland
The full report and its methodology can be found on wallethub.com

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.