“You can take me anywhere you want to take me. But get me out of Atlanta.”
I can’t recall a time my amenable husband, Herb, dug in so much. But he was adamant that after his retirement – an end to a 34-year career as a Delta pilot based in Atlanta – we would live in a different place.
Turns out our move to the Gulf Coast still contributes a ‘wow’ to our Post50 lifestyle. But finding our geography of place wasn’t easy and Herb’s lead time of ten years was a boon since the scouting and winnowing of places took a whopping 71/2.
Was Atlanta a bad place for us? Definitely not.
But are we truly happier where we live now than if we had stayed? Unquestionably, yes.
Choosing a spouse and choosing a career are important life decisions—but even more predictive of our all-round personal happiness is our choice of living location, argues Richard Florida, author of Who’s My City: How the Creative Economy is Making Were You Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life.
At this turning point in life, a growing number of us have the opportunity to choose a place that truly fits our needs.
‘Geography of Place’ -the place you choose to live as you begin your third act of life – is a high-stakes decision and most of us are not prepared to make the right choice.
Where in the world do we begin to pick a place good for a possible second career that affords us a fulfilling and vibrant life?
Ask most people how they got to the place they live now, they’ll say they just ended up there.
How did you end up where you are anyway?
Intersection of Geography and Happiness
In his captivating best-seller Stumbling on Happiness, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert writes that “most of us make at least three important decisions in our lives: where to live, what to do and with whom to do it.”
But Gilbert’s book mostly focuses on the “what” and the “who.”
That happiness researchers like Gilbert mainly ignored the “where” inspired Richard Florida’s partnering with Gallup to conduct a major US study that shows the overwhelming importance of place to happiness. (There is also a related European version conducted by Robert Manchin of Gallup Europe.)
“The place we live is more important to our happiness than education or earnings.”
When asked to rate happiness in relation to things like work, finances and personal life on a 1-5 scale, place scored 3.63 behind personal life 4.08 and work 3.98 but ahead of finances 3.46.”
Remarkably few of us have had the occasion we now have in midlife to intentionally choose a place we want to live. Sure, we’ve relocated. But often it was for work, a love interest or a family situation.
This time is different.
Now there’s the opportunity to be mindful of a decision where putting our desires and needs first and foremost is the best thing we can do to ensure future wellbeing.
What really matters in choosing our geography of place? Will we know it when we see it? Or will we feel it? How long will it take us to find?
How Place Make Us Happy
Who hasn’t remarked, “How in the world do people live here?” I’ve said that as I scanned tall buildings at Broadway and 55th, drove down a red-clay holler in south Georgia and zipped up the Mae Kong River to Chiang Rai on a long-tail boat.
We presume to know a lot about why people choose to live where they do, why they move or stay, and who is happy where.
The research shows interesting realities (pointing out where you and I might be a little ‘off’ in our thinking):
- The widely held assumption that people in rural areas are happier than those in dense city centers is only slightly true.
- Assuming homeowners are happier than renters is not true either. Renters are a little bit happier.
- Yes, people move for work – reason #3. First is for housing, (to own, upgrade or downsize) and for personal/family reasons (love, divorce, death of spouse).
- “Roots” matter more than you imagine. Many people stay in communities because of the pull of family ties and lifelong friends. (One study found that seeing friends or relatives in person almost every day is worth more than six figures of additional income.)
- Just about 2/3rds of respondents in Florida’s study are happy where they are. More than a third of respondent are ambivalent.
- Nature – the sea, mountains, woods, or an expanse of prairie from a kitchen window – provides a connection that often predicts happiness regardless of other psychological factors
Florida describes a ‘quality of place’ as the intersection of three key elements: what’s there (natural and build environments), who’s there (the people), and what’s going on (what people are doing, our relationship with the natural and built environments.)
These are the building blocks – the environment, people and activities – we will use for identity and belonging in a new life stage.
But how does our geography of place connect us to a state of happiness?
This ‘place’ we choose to live underwrites our happiness in three ways:
- Place is a major source of excitement and creative situation- an essential component of our psychological well-being.
- Place gives us an environment we can cultivate our individuality. People derive happiness from being themselves. Self-expression, say sociologists and psychologists, is a major source of happiness.
- Place gives us belonging, pride and attachment.
If where you live seems a good choice for the rest of your life, great! But consider digging deeper to verify this will be worthwhile choice for your future. The person you were at 30 when you moved there may cultivate different interests and needs as you cross the threshold to a new stage in life.
Some individuals haven’t paid much attention to where they will live out there days figuring, I suppose, it’ll all come together somehow.
But many who read this already know deep in their hearts true happiness will elude them if they stay where they are.
Think about where you live now:
When you walk onto the street or country lane in the morning does it fill you with inspiration?
Does it allow you to be the person you really want to be?
Are you close enough to family and friends? Or further away than you’d like?
How do you feel about the place you’re living now?
Would you recommend it to others?
Finding your geography of place may seem cerebral (cost, location, available housing, climate, number of city parks) but the decision hinges, more than you might think, on intuition and perception.
People want to feel energy in places they live. Certain people want to feel a vibe – around the music scene, the arts, food, or technology.
The Beauty Premium
Though happiness, belonging and self–expression helps us know why choosing where we live Post50 is critical to our future, let’s get specific.
What really matters to people in the places they live?
Research finds people value five things – physical and economic security, basic services, leadership, openness, and aesthetics.
While each factor matters a great deal, the top two are aesthetics and basic services.
When it comes to beauty and outdoor space- created by Mother Nature or talented city planners/architects- people are moved to experience serenity, joy, peace, mindfulness or any other feel-good emotion you can name.
In her book,“The Substance of Style,” Virginia Postrel provides powerful insight into the value of aesthetic. “Given a modicum of stability and sustenance,” Postrel writes, “people enrich the look and feel of their lives through ritual, personal adornment and decorated objects.”
That pine tree outside your window could be your most valuable piece of art.
Human beings crave physical beauty in the things that surround us and especially in the places we live – and we’ll pay good money to get what we want because more important than climate or clean air – we want to linger in beauty.
Geography Transforms Us
We expect a lot from the places we live and we should.
In a Post50 life you will transition into a late adult stage of life good for another 30 years. You will find meaningful work, re-fresh life by engaging in activities to gratify yourself and perhaps others using a block of freedom you have never known.
You will establish a new identity and the culture of where you live will connect and engage you in different ways.
New friends will be important especially if you have left a successful career behind and are starting new endeavors.
After the basics and beauty, we crave communities where we are welcome and can easily meet new people. (On the list of “Welcoming Cities” – Sydney is #1; Moscow is 60.)
For some the place they choose will be an international flight away. Many individuals and couples surprise family and friends (and often themselves) to become expats in places like Costa Rica, Paris and Ecuador enjoying a new vibrant culture with the support of a community of like-minded people. (And in some locations, they find a much more affluent affordable life than one they had in the US.)
Still others design a lifestyle of living between two properties, blue-water cruising or roaming in an RV.
At this stage of life, we often are in the position of choice. What is the best choice for you?
Your geography of place is somewhere between your psychological wants and needs and what a community can offer. Finances will certainly play a role and there will be trade-offs. But somewhere there’s a fit.
How Long Will It Take?
My interviews reveal finding your Geography of Place can take two months to eight years. Some people know instantly they are looking for an island, mountains or crave a city life full of cultural events.
Others are unknowing because they haven’t yet had the conversation with themselves and/or their partners.
The resources at the end of this post will help get you started on the “thinking” aspect of this process. But do understand that visits to the places that make your short list are mandatory.
There’s a different mindset you’ll have when exploring a place to live versus just vacationing in that place.
Florida recommends at least three visits (I concur). Regardless of the facts on the spread sheet, you may get a sense that it’s all wrong, like a wrong job or the wrong life partner.
The ‘this-is-not-it’ feeling descended on me two hours after I landed in Fort Meyers for an initial visit (I left on the next flight out to Atlanta) and in the middle of a fourth visit to Tucson.
Many won’t visit anywhere because of the mighty force pulling them home. Of the roughly two hundred detailed locational histories Florida collected his book, many of those who had moved around chose to return to their hometown later in life.
Some people will be very happy where they are. You may be one of them. But as I’ve said, if you want to make sure you’re making the best decision, go on the hunt.
Our geography of place supports or recreates identities based on things that matter to us now – personal interests, activities, new people. We’ll want to wander and work in settings that inspire us.
All of this is a tall order and best explored before (as in now) you are in the midst of the transition ahead.
Where Do I Start?
This is an inward journey first. The start is finding out what matters to you and what you want most out of a place.
Places come in all sizes, shapes colors. Categories like superstar cities, leafy suburbs, a small village, natural environments and unexplored cultures might be a first cut.
While you may already have a host of “clues,” answer these questions to fuel your blueprint of the element of “Geography of Place”
- Do you like where you live now? Do you love it?
- How might your needs change in the second half of life?
- How might financial parameters affect your choices?
- Does the place you’re living now help or hinder your path to personal and work goals?
- Would another place allow you to reach your potential to a greater degree?
- What are the top five places on your radar screen?
- What do you like about them?
- Specifically, what do you think they offer you?
- How would your life be different in these places?
- Which three places are worth a visit?
That’s it, folks. It’s your turn now to use this information and the resources below to get to work crafting a remarkable, extraordinary life in the place you want to be.
Just thinking about you in that place makes me happy.
Personality of Cities – Find where the extroverted, Agreeable, Neurotic and Conscientious live
New Geography of Work – Where do people doing what you’d like to do live?
Find Your Best Place –www.bestplaces.net – offers quiz to narrow your ‘best place’ using nine categories.
Find Your Perfect Place Overseas – 45 second quiz by International Living