Photo courtesy of Chip Raches
"There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives. Those who are lucky enough to find it ease like water over a stone, onto its fluid contours, and are home." -Josephine Hart, "Damage"
When I was a kid, I liked to watch the TV show "Green Acres," where the glamorous Eva Gabor — the consummate city girl — tried to make a go of it on the farm. I felt for her then, and today for anyone trying to make the wrong place feel right.
I, too, have landed in places that didn't fit. Like the time right out of college, when I — all smart and grown up — got my first apartment in Los Angeles. After signing the one-year lease, I realized that I had just joined a nudist colony. That situation made my dating life awkward, but that's a story for another time.
For the last two weeks, I've been exploring the question of whether moving to a new place can make you happier. The answer from both experts and many readers is a resounding: That depends.
If you're game, changing where you live can quite literally "make a world of difference," says Margaret King, director of a cultural think tank in Philadelphia that analyzes how place impacts how lives get lived. "Place is the most important variable in determining lifestyle, social relations, cost of living, life satisfaction, weather, and, well, everything we live with."
Readers agree. Here's a sampling of the responses I got about what matters when choosing, leaving or staying in a place.
• Lifestyle matters: The Wade family is definitely happier since they moved six years ago from the college town of Boulder, Colo., across the state to the more family-friendly Steamboat Springs. The year-round outdoor lifestyle, good schools, and "the benefits of a small town without the isolation" suit them, said Jon Wade. "Granted, it takes more effort to live here given our winters and the cost of living. You have to want to be in Steamboat, but that seems to attract people passionate about enjoying life." His children, ages 8 and 6, can "ski anything," he says. "I love that I am jealous of them nearly every day because of how and where they get to grow up."
• Culture matters. Ten years ago, Andrea Karim was an overworked underpaid technical writer in California. She decided she needed to make something of her college major — Chinese linguistics and Islamic studies. So she moved to Western China. "You know the saying, 'Nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there?' That was (the city) Urumqi for me. I was completely miserable." In stores she found a lot of what she didn't want (purple mink coats) but not what she wanted (ground coffee). She returned to the states a year later with a new appreciation for her technical writing work, and two Chinese dogs.
• Attitude matters: Kacee (who did not want her last name used) reluctantly left Atlanta for a small town in Alabama when her husband got transferred. The town had few stores, was 45 minutes from a decent restaurant, and the locals did not welcome outsiders. She joined the Newcomer's Club, "full of women like me who had moved there hoping to move out soon."
She endured for eight years, then moved to another big city outside Chicago, "close to a Target and ethnic food." But looking back, what stands out now is how great the place was for her two children. "We had an acre lot, a small friendly church, many parks, and the entire town would turn out for the kids' games." Her now teenage kids refer to it as "the best childhood ever."
"The place wasn't as bad as I thought," she realizes. "I expected to hate it and never really gave it a chance."
• Work matters: A few years ago, when Jesi Josten and her husband moved from Grand Rapids, Mich., where they had grown up, to Denver, "It was a huge leap of faith," she said. "We had no job prospects." But the economy in Michigan was growing worse, and both the companies they worked for were on the rocks. (His was having layoffs. Hers folded right after she moved.) They fared better in Denver. Her husband found a great job, and she started her own business, "which would never have worked in the Midwest." Now her only regret: "We wish we'd moved sooner!"
• Scenery matters: "I disagree with your (expert's) comment that the place we live becomes invisible," wrote Bruce Hamady, of Sausalito, Calif. "My environment is very important. I get a recharge from going to work in the morning when I can watch the sun come up over the water, or coming home at night to see houses nestled on the hillside." He takes the long way home, so he can drive through the pretty town.
• Safety matters: "I have moved many, many times. While all the qualities you mentioned, like climate and community, do matter, you neglected to mention the most important factor: safety. When you're scared, nothing else matters," says Tracy Sahn, who now lives safely in Livermore, Calif.
• Personality matters: Marsi Girardi, of Walnut Creek, Calif., and her husband are starting to scope out places to retire. They view the prospect differently. "I'm the homebody and he's the adventurer. I love the relationships I have built over 25 years and my community. He appreciates his motorcycle riding and fishing trips, and wants to get away from the 'craziness' of the Bay Area." The challenge: he wants to move to the foothills above Sacramento, where neither of them knows a soul. "Help!!" she writes. Readers?
All I can add is this: City girls, stay off the farm; the rest of you watch out for nudist colonies.
Posted in Marni-jameson on Wednesday, March 7, 2012 8:00 pm | Tags: Moving , Relocation
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