You were Not Meant to Thrive Everywhere

longevity place well-being Aug 16, 2023
Lone Tree

Many of us are told at a young age that we can do anything. We can overcome any hurdle. We can defy the odds. It’s a simply a matter of resilience and perseverance.

Over time, we learn that reality is different. Some hurdles are too high to clear. Some odds are too steep. Resilience and perseverance are important, but so is knowing when to pivot and change course.

Not only do we have limitations, but we’re also not able to thrive everywhere. Some places and circumstances bring out the best in us. Others don’t.  You may find that you are most at ease by the ocean; your friend may be most relaxed in the mountains. Or, more significantly, places with low crime are good for your well-being whereas exceedingly hot places introduce health risks, such as heat stroke (see “When is Hot Too Hot?”) .

A key strategy to achieve a long, healthy, and financially secure life is to recognize that some places are better for you – or your future self – than others. For example, the appeal of a “forever house” can be strong but it may not be the best place down the road as your needs and preferences change (see “The Flaw with the ‘Forever’ House” and “Look Out for Your Future Self”).


Life has endless possibilities with a seemingly infinite number of paths at any moment (Source: Tim Urban)


Life Represents Limitless Possibilities Shaped by Place

Life truly offers endless possibilities. It is part of the excitement of life. It’s like the game show Let’s Make a Deal, but rather than choosing among three doors the options are infinite. Each decision shapes your next set of options.

Take college. The college you attend influences your friend network, the range and quality of academic majors available to you, and the type and location of jobs available to you. Ultimately, your college decision puts you on a path.

College is one of countless decisions about place in your life. There are obvious ones (i.e., where to take your first job, where to live when settling down, where to retire, etc.) and less obvious ones (i.e., which block to live on, how can your kitchen be configured for the way you like to cook, how can your bathroom be designed to minimize fall risks, etc.). Each decision – the small ones and big ones – influences your life. It puts you on a slightly different path.

The big decisions about place, such as which country, state, and metro area to live, can have a bigger influence in your life than you realize. It is because we are more shaped by places than we shape them. For example, researchers have found that habits are contagious. We’re influenced by our friends’ friends’ friends. If our social network tends to be obese, we face a higher risk of obesity. If our social network is composed of happy people, we’re more likely to be happy. Our decision about where to live is a decision about who we want to become (See “Place as a Life Hack”).

The make-up of our neighborhoods, including access to third places like parks, can shape our lives more than we may realize (Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash)  


Not Every Neighborhood is Right for You

A decision about home is not just about your physical dwelling (i.e., your four walls), it also is a decision about neighborhood which can have a profound impact. A key question is whether a neighborhood is made up of people like you. There is robust research that shows how commonalities facil­itate friendship (See “Friends”). People are simply more likely to befriend others of the same gender, age, ethnicity, and so on. Taken too far, however, a communi­ty of people composed of people just like you could be stifling and boring. Perhaps a better question is whether a neighborhood is made up of enough people like you that you can spark friendships with.

Neighbors and broader community also provide a key element in starting and nourishing friendships: proximity. Researchers indicate that it takes about 50 hours to move from an acquaintance to a ca­sual friendship, about 100 hours to call someone a friend, and over 200 hours of togetherness to become a best friend. The challenge in our current era of busyness is that it is often hard to set aside time to get to know people. As we get older, we tend to not allocate enough time to nurturing friendships. In fact, in middle age, we allocate about 4% of our time for friends outside of family, and this number only increases to 8% for retirees.

The Villages, one of the most successful master planned communities ever, offers some lessons. As an age-restricted community with nearly 100,000 residents, it is a largely homogenous set of retirees. For some, the culture of The Villages is ideal and conducive to making friends and building community through various activities and shared interests. For others, the environment can seem too contrived and absent of diversity of ages and backgrounds. For one, it is a place to thrive; for another, it is a place to avoid at all costs.

The Villages can be polarizing: some love it, others loathe it (Source: The Villages website)


Be Honest and Move Forward Accordingly

While it sounds nice to assume that you can thrive in any environment, it is a falsehood that can lead to poor decision making, especially if you are looking out for your future self. Assess the fit of your current environment. Imagine how your place may change and how your needs and preferences may shift. If you’re in the wrong place today or soon, do something about it. You are not meant to thrive everywhere.


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