Thursday, January 10, 2019

Psychology debunks the idea that we’d be happier if we lived somewhere else

Several times I've had the idea -- or the wish -- that if I could just move to another locale, another state, another country, another planet -- beam me up Scottie -- my life would improve. Not that my life was all that bad. Yes, I had some terrible times, but maybe geographic change might be just what I needed. 

I think this is the case for most of us: A new start.

In my case, the military made the choices for me, whether I wanted to or not. In my first 21 years of active duty, I was assigned to 11 different bases. But I brought all my shit with me. 

Since retiring, I've lived in four different cities. And sometimes, besides the hassle of moving, it has been fun, most of the time. But still, I brought myself along.

But I many times believed that my current challenges might be different, better, solved, if only I could make a fresh start. Maybe do better by my kids, save one of my marriages, but life doesn't work that way. Life is hard. How you react to it makes the difference. 

I thought (wished) I could get a better start. Improve myself, have better relationships, get a better position, have more fun. 

The problem is, as always, I came along with the ride, with all my existing baggage, without really changing myself.It wasn't until I was about 35 -- possible even later -- until I started to get a clue. And I didn't do it alone. I was 40 before I got my college degree: A B.S. in psycology, of all things. 

A new city, meanwhile, is the geographic version of a crush, enticing and full of untested promise. So we wind up believing that the simplest way to get a fresh start is to pick up and move to a new place, where we might find a more challenging job, get out of debt, start dating a nicer boyfriend or girlfriend, take up yoga and finally begin self-actualizing

And yet there are some big problems with the geographic cure -- starting with the fact that we tend to overestimate how happy we’ll be in a new environment. In one study, psychologist Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, found that midwesterners expected residents of southern California to be happier with the place where they lived, especially because of the climate and cultural opportunities. In reality, both groups ranked themselves the same in overall life satisfaction.

Hope is good. But action is better. So the next time you travel to a tempting new destination, think about what it is that appeals to you so much about the place, and channel your wanderlust into efforts to find the same qualities within your hometown. If you can’t get over how beautiful nature is when you’re on vacation, maybe you just need to schedule more local campouts into your weekends. If you spend 70% of your vacation Yelping the next meal, become a food booster in your hometown by trying every restaurant and shouting out your favorites online.

And if you do move, commit to your new town as fiercely as you can. But don’t expect it to fix you. Even the healing power of pizza smells can only do so much. 
So take some thought before you uproot your life and move. I'm not saying not to do it, just have a reason.

"Here's the big challenge of life: You can have more than you've got, because you can become more than you are."

That's the challenge.

"And of course, the other side of the coin reads: Unless you change how you are, you'll always have what you've got." 

But of course, if you want to move, for the right reasons, why not? Just make sure you're moving for the right reasons. 

While not directly related to a geographic fix, I find this video by Ashton Kutcher and inspiration and good advice. There are many others such videos, and if you seek (and you shall find). But I like Ashton's message, and the work he does outside of acting. (Includes excerpts from some of his performances at the end.) 

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