Why We Live Where We Live

It’s hard to keep track of friends and relatives when they move around so much. My address book (when I still used one made of paper) was full of crossed-out addresses and phone numbers and email contacts. Now it’s the same problem on the electronic version: three phone numbers for one person, all tagged “home.” I don’t know which is the old and which has replaced it, or even if any of them is current. For me the underlying question, however, isn’t “Where are they now?”, but “Why aren’t they where they used to be?”

A wise friend once told me that as adults, when we have some choice about where we reside, we try to maximize three important factors: people, place and work.

I believe people seek places of meaning, not just of beauty.

We look for somewhere with like-minded individuals, evidence of a supportive community, indications that the folks living there are going to be sufficiently familiar to increase the possibility of positive connection.

We look for a place where the weather suits us (and is kind to our allergies), where the physical environment supports our activities and is consistent with our personal sense of beauty. We want to be in a place that’s busy and noisy enough, if we happen to thrive in that kind of environment – or isolated and quiet enough for the more solitary among us.

We hope for work that’s safe and pays a fair wage, and is stable enough for us to dependably meet our financial obligations.

Yet, even if one is lucky enough to find that balance of people, place and work, for some that’s not enough. Many people continue looking, seeking the geographic cure of moving somewhere new, the emotional cure of replacing one close relationship with another (sometimes with almost identical flaws and features) or the financial cure of chasing after the more powerful position, the more impressive title – whatever passes for “the corner office” in their particular field.

What’s missing is meaningful connections.

Most psychological research shows that loving, warm relationships give meaning to life. The majority of deathbed conversations focus on strong, loving connections; on repair, regret and remembering.

And I believe people seek places of meaning, not just of beauty; places where there are policies friendly to our lifestyles – pedestrian-friendly perhaps, or politically tolerant, or environmentally aware. When we have meaningful interactions with our surroundings we change them for the better, and they change us.

Enjoying a career is certainly easier to do if it’s meaningful. A recent study on ambition noted that 40% of people said enjoying their work is their top priority: higher than security, money, power and influence. The Harvard Business Review states, “The more meaning, purpose and significance you can ascribe to your work, the more likely it is you’ll work harder, be more productive and successful and enjoy it along the way.” In this way, a job can add meaning to life.

So consider where you are: the people, places and work that make up the framework of your life. When I think of friends and family, now scattered around the world, my deepest hope is that their search for rewarding connections with the people in their lives, their surroundings and their work has resulted in lives full of meaning, whatever their current phone numbers happen to be.



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