The power of place

In my junior year of high school, when I was living in my home state of Virginia and looking at colleges, my aunt Susy (who is also my webmaster – hi, Susy!) gave me a very good piece of advice. She said something to the effect of, “As you look at schools, think about where you’d like to end up as an adult. Most people end up settling wherever they go to college. So ask yourself, ‘Do I really want to live in [X city/state/region] for the foreseeable future?’” What she said made sense to me, and I started thinking about where I would most like to live.

It should be urban. The weather should be mild. The attitude should be progressive. I didn’t want to live right near family, but I liked the idea of having them nearby.

portlandThese criteria pointed me in the direction of Portland, Oregon. I did a little more research, and everything I read about Portland made it sound like the right place for me. So, I applied to one college (Lewis & Clark), took one visit to Portland to interview there and take a look the town … and when I was accepted, I moved there virtually sight unseen. That was 22 years ago, and it was one of the best decisions of my life. Portland really does fit me, for all the above reasons and more.

At the moment, as you know, I’m vacationing in San Diego, and my intention is to begin living here during the winters – starting next winter – because I want to be surrounded by warm sunshine, rather than bleak rain. (Portland’s singular failing, from my perspective.) This past spring, as I began brainstorming possible new cities, I considered various locales that would be warmer. Once again, I made myself a list of the criteria that were most important to me. This time around, they were: 1) Warm but not too hot, 2) English speaking (I was open to southern-hemisphere destinations), 3) Within an hour of the ocean, 4) Plenty of vegan-friendly restaurants, 5) A thriving ecstatic dance scene, and 6) Good bicycle and transit infrastructure, so that I could continue living car-free.

balboaOn paper, San Diego seemed to fit the bill best, but I had never seen it. So, I hopped on a plane at the end of April to spend a few days surveying the scene. I loved what I saw! In addition to meeting all of my criteria, the city got bonus points for having the incredible Balboa Park right in the middle of town, and having friendly, laid-back people everywhere I went. When I arrived here again on the train yesterday, I was filled with joy, knowing I would be spending the next four days in my soon-to-be seasonal home city.

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the power of place, when it comes to determining our happiness and satisfaction with life. When we live somewhere that doesn’t feel “right” to us, for whatever reason, it clouds our mood much of the time, and leaves us feeling unhappy on a regular basis. By contrast, living in a place that is aligned with our values and preferences leaves us feeling happy and energized much of the time.

I’m curious about readers’ experiences with this. Does your current town or city feel “right” to you? If so, what was your path to arriving there? If not, what criteria does your town not satisfy for you? What would your ideal location look like? What, if anything, is holding you back from moving to that place?