Dan Buettner has a new Blue Zones book out (the happiest places in the world…) so he’s been making the rounds lately; I’ve heard interviews with him on either NPR or a podcast and one thing he said really struck a chord with me:
My findings indicate that if you want to get happy, don’t try to change your belief system. Change your environment.
Isn’t that the opposite of what we’re always told?*
“bloom where you’re planted” ??
That’s what I always thought I should believe. I thought I was supposed to be happy no matter my environment, no matter my surroundings, no matter the community. I was supposed to just be happy wherever I was. (not that I’m not happy, I just felt – the last four years – that I could be so much MORE happy/content/at HOME – in a different place. I have not felt like myself in years)
My husband is great at that; he is happy wherever he is. Truly. I, on the other hand, am not. I felt constant pressure to just “be happy” and make the best of things. Which I tried, I really did. Sometimes it worked for a bit, but most of the time it didn’t.
And now I don’t feel so bad about it. Not so much because Dan Buettner’s research backs that up, but because I also FEEL it, and KNOW it to be true. For me anyway. I think a lot of people are very good at going with the flow, and just adapting easily to their surroundings. Again, I’m not great at that. I envy those who are.
As you know, we recently moved. We’re still in the DFW area, but we moved quite a bit closer to Dallas, to a not-as-suburban suburb of Dallas LOL. I’m 15 minutes away from my favorite places to sit & work and shop now, and we live in a much more “inviting” and diverse community. We have a yard for Dagny and a house with enough space to spread out, and for all my plants. It gets wonderful light. Our home is just a pleasant place to be now. It is the sanctuary I’ve wished it could be for quite a while.
We literally live next door to friends, and I’m closer to another friend’s work and the places we like to hang out. I am seriously IN LOVE with my new Pure Barre studio and already feel at home there.
I can breathe now. I think I feel like me again. It’s been a long time.
What do you think about Dan Buettner’s argument, that happiness isn’t ALL about our “belief system,” that it is also influenced by our surroundings? Have you found that to be true in your own life?
Incidentally, he also says that people who socialize for 6-7 hours a day tend to be happier, and people who live near water tend to be happier…
*to be fair, I think true “happiness” is a combination of quite a few things, including belief system AND location. But when one is “off,” it’s harder for me to feel it…
Our wedding first dance was “Feels Like Home to Me” (Bonnie Raitt version) so, yeah, it’s a pretty important concept to me! And the song was as much about how I felt comfortable in NC as it was about my feelings for my husband (I moved to NC after school & work in a few other states and it was the first place I’d felt comfortable since I left Connecticut at the end of high school – I’ve now lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else).
That said – I love my house (we live in the country with acreage and a pond and I can – and do – garden naked because I don’t have to deal with neighbors. But I hate the narrow-minded Southern small town that I live in and would much prefer to live 20 miles away (in what we call “our favorite historic town” that has a lively arts community, great food & craft beer scene, etc. But for now, we save a ton of money, are mostly happy, and dream about retiring to that favorite historic town (which we visit regularly too)
As for Dan, I guess I’m in the middle – it’s great if you can find the best environment for you, but there is a lot to be said for blooming where you’re planted as well….
Grechen Reiter says
oh, absolutely…i wish i was better at “blooming where i’m planted” – but i try, and just am not. i think i just “need/want” certain things to really feel comfortable. and not material things, just a “feeling” more than anything. that i belong. i know it when i feel it, i guess 😉
but wait. you garden NAKED?? i’m so intrigued by that. i’ve often wondered if women really walk around their homes naked or in just their underwear? i have NEVER done that – i’m not sure i ever even THOUGHT about it LOL – all my life i’ve been pretty uncomfortable with my body though, and am only now feeling good in it..so maybe i’ll give it a try…
Well, my mom is a flower child, so I wasn’t raised with any inhibitions. And I have FAR from a perfect body. But my husband is the only person who ever sees me! It started out for practical reasons – I come home from work in the summer and take off my work clothes, need to go work in the garden – but don’t want to get any other clothing green (from the tomatoes – chlorophyll stains!) so I’d just be outside for 30 minutes or so, watering & pruning& harvesting. On weekends/for longer work periods, I wear garden clothes (eg weekends – I just do all my “dirty” stuff in one block and then shower/laundry) It’s also HOT and humid here, and I hate feeling hot & sticky. So I sometimes will be naked inside the house too. In-laws & parents learned to call before “popping over” 🙂 We also have a driveway alarm (though if I’m outside, it doesn’t help….)
Very similar situation. I require a pretty specific confluence of environmental factors for my emotional well-being; my husband could be happy pretty much anywhere. We live about 15 miles outside of the “cultural center” in a very rural area. By living outside of town (and not in one of the “desirable”, aka rich, school districts) we can afford acreage and seclusion and immediate access to great hiking, skiing, paddling, etc. I suspect if we stay in this area for more than another, say, 5 years, we will move closer to the center of things, mainly in order to have more bike-friendly commutes, and maybe go back to owning one car instead of two (and faster internet — that’s the one thing my husband dislikes about our current home — no high-speed!).
In general, though, I like the feeling of being on-the-move more than DH. He likes feeling settled, whereas I can’t help but dream of being elsewhere, no matter where I am, even if it’s a place I really like that ticks all or most of my boxes (which is true of where we are now).
I’m a former academic, in large part because I could not handle the thought of living where I got an academic job. I was on the academic market around 2008 and the recession, and if you could even get an academic job, you took it. No matter where. That’s still the case– especially in humanities, most people have extremely little choice in where they end up. And one can never bank on the idea of getting another job: one truly might be stuck for the rest of your life in a place you hate.
I did not want to give up my life (i.e., everything outside of work) to be a professor, or to work in a museum. So I gave up what was considered a “good job” to be underemployed in a place I like. I’ve probably accomplished less professionally than if I had stuck it out (I’m reasonably well employed now), but then again, maybe not, because I’d probably be a very depressed alcoholic if I was still back in university town.
Being miserable in a place isn’t worth it.
I am totally on board with the “change the environment” comment. I lived all over the DFW area for 27 years and never was at peace (not that I was unhappy for 27 years! But I also was never comfortable, if you know what I mean). Two years ago I moved to Apalachicola, Fl. I love this little town, yet it still didn’t tick all the boxes (though it increased my happiness exponentially). Had to relocate to Tallahassee for my husbands job and while I like my new home, the large pond in the back teaming with alligators and all manner of wild life…there is still something missing, Debiand for me I think that is a true change of seasons. I guess having grown up in the Midwest my flow is predicated on a natural course of change—the light, the temperature, the foods available, the activities and the lack thereof when it is cold. I don’t know how much longer I will have to live in the South, but I look forward to a future of coming home to what feels right for me. In the meantime, I try to practice gratitude for the blessing I do have and find an appreciation for the environment I do inhabit. At any rate, so happy for you that you have found a place that finally feels right?
Definitely agree! My environment has always made a huge impact on how I feel – in general, and about myself. For a long time my location also dictated who I was – how I behaved, what I liked, etc. but I’m finally feeling like I can be myself regardless of my environment. Which is nice, but when the two don’t jive it’s a little off-putting. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, in an abstract way, and I’m not sure I have it figured out quite yet.
Grechen Reiter says
my friend and i joke about “why we live here again?” quite often – we aren’t really fans of Texas, or DFW specifically, but it’s not an awful place to live. we are both just here more or less because of our husbands…so, yes, i know what you mean about never really being comfortable in DFW 😉
i pretty much grew up in florida, so i never knew what seasons were until we moved to Atlanta when i started high school. but i can definitely understand the need for seasons if that’s how you grew up. it must be very hard to have just one climate year-round if you’re not cut out for that…
i am so happy to finally feel more like myself here. but i’m also like kate a little – i like change, and to feel ‘on the move,’ so i will probably get antsy in a few years!!
Grechen Reiter says
yes! i love the “on the move” feeling too. and my husband hates it. he really doesn’t understand that about me…
Grechen, that picture caught me off guard because the windows look very similar to my house! This post was really interesting. So we’ve lived in north Austin or just north of the city since I moved here in 2001. The area is fine and has everything we need, plus we bought our house 12 years ago before the housing market blew up here. But I’d really, really love to live closer in where there are so many more restaurants, shops, and museums. I get so tired of the fast food and chicken places here, and we always go into Austin on the weekends. But we have a beautiful home, our kids love their school, and it’s perfect in so many ways.
I’m trying not to feel so unsettled, but it’s hard. Austin is really changing, and the city is working to create more in-fill and affordable housing. I love the idea of living in close proximity to my neighbors and being able to walk places. I’m hopeful that we can eventually move somewhere like that.
I’ve noticed this in my own life, particularly in my work environment. My two favorite jobs (barista and thrift shop manager) allowed me to socialize all day and see the sunlight. The doors were/are always open when the weather’s nice. My least favorite jobs (craft store framer and call center rep), I didn’t have access to natural light and often felt trapped in mind numbing and generally hostile interpersonal environments. That’s why I believe in quitting things. Some places make you crazy!
Thanks for sharing this! My husband is about to enter the academic job/humanities job market and this is my thought, too. It’s not worth it to move to rural who-knows-where far away from family and a community we feel at home in just to prove that all that education was worth it. We’re hoping he can find a decent high school/prep school teaching job in a state or area we feel at home in.
Yes, yes, a thousand time yes! We moved back to Vancouver in 2011 after ten years in Toronto to care for my MIL. I lived here prior after university for a number of years:. In the six years we’ve been back I’ve never felt settled.
It has the reputation for being a hard city to break into. I was single when I lived here before and now have a husband, a poodle, and our lovely 11 year old daughter. She’s in a great situation with friends and school and I’m not about to upset that situation.
It’s good enough and I have some acquaintances. I’m playing a lot of tennis and get out to a bluegrass community band that I play in. Volunteer at my daughter’s school. Volunteer tutor early readers at another elementary school. All the ingeredients are there but I haven’t gotten any traction. I even hosted four creative salons when I first moved back as a way to build community.
Anyhow, I agree whole heartedly as to place. Toronto? Made many friends. Cape Town? Made many friends. Vancouver? Crickets. It’s like everyone’s dance card is full and they don’t have room for someone new.
Grechen Reiter says
Yes – i loved being a barista too 🙂 it’s true that some places just don’t work for some people… And i thought of you when I read the national geographic article about the happiest places in the US – Charlottesville is one!
Grechen Reiter says
oh my gosh. i’ve felt that same thing too sometimes! like some people i meet i think i could really be friends with already have enough friends, and there’s no room for me 🙁 i guess perhaps that is true for some people, but i can’t imagine a situation like that for myself. i would love to have more friends.
it sounds like you’re trying anyway- that’s all we can do really. i remember doing that when I moved to austin, i started a lunch group for bloggers and that led to some great friendships! you just never know what will “take” though!
Grechen Reiter says
i absolutely get what you’re saying – when i’m near a city, i’d rather be IN The city, so i can really take advantage of all it has to offer, you know? i would rather really be immersed…
but yeah, the housing market in austin is/was pretty insane when we left. i can only imagine what it’s like now.
And I think that I made it sound more dire than it is!
I have acquaintances here and thank heavens for social media and whatsapp for keeping in contact with my close friends.
Totally believe it’s location!!! For me, anyway. We’ve lived a lot of different places, but I’ve been happiest where we are right now…by the ocean. Of course, there are always other mitigating factors. But I BELONG here!
Thank you so much for posting this, it deeply affected me.
I lived in a city I hated for 4 years and I felt so unbalanced, so odd, so not myself. I thought it was just me. People told me it was just me, that I had to give it time, that I had to put myself out there. I did, nothing changed. They told me it’s a great city, and I am crazy to not feel at home. I felt like I was in some weird twilight zone where no one understood what I was feeling.
I finally got a dream job and moved to a different location and my entire world changed. Even my body changed. Now, even when I visit the old location, I feel the same sad, dark, heavy energy I used to. And upon returning, I feel happy and light again.
I thought this was just my experience, but I see that it is not and I feel even better knowing I’m not alone. Thank you so very much for posting this!!
Grechen Reiter says
you are welcome kelly 🙂
i felt the same way after reading his thoughts on location – i felt a little lighter, and like i wasn’t crazy, or alone in my feelings that i was suffocating where i was. i just think it’s almost impossible for people who aren’t like us to understand how reliant we are on “place” – whatever that means to each of us. it’s community, really, and feeling like we have a home somewhere. and it’s so hard to explain….
i’m so happy you found your “place” 🙂
I absolutely believe that your surroundings affect your happiness. It’s ironic that I live in a city that has been named one of the happiest in the United States (Charlottesville, Virginia) and I absolutely hate it here and my mental health has suffered from living here. Maybe it’s a happy place for some, but to me it’s an unwelcoming, stifling, unfriendly, narrow-minded, provincial place, with a thin veneer of college town that fools a lot of people. We’re here because of our careers, but maybe, as has been said above, it would be better to forgo career success in order to live in a place where I feel at home.
Good food for thought in your post. Thank you!