(The farther you live the cheaper it is, but how much would you pay for happiness?)
- Think fast: If you had to live in a poor neighborhood or a rich neighborhood where would you live?
Of course, the rich neighborhood. They’re cleaner, safer, have better schools, and a better commercial district. But let’s go another layer and figure out and why you said the rich neighborhood: More tree lined streets, no graffiti, better restaurants, manicured lawns, nicer establishments, well-groomed people. These nuances add up to the feel of a community and the outlook of the people in the neighborhood. The sum of the parts adds up to the whole.
If you live in an impoverished neighborhood you may feel a constant weight on you and you might not even know that it’s there. You know when you drive through Beverly Hills compared to South Central you feel differently but did you ever ask yourself why? If you’re in your car you’re not interacting with anyone, so your mood comes down to the appearances of the area and the overall energy of the people. So if that’s true, how much more are you willing to pay to be happier and are there benefits beyond money?
Take any study on happiness and people report that the thing that makes them most unhappy is commuting. So if that’s the case then the answer is simple — don’t live far away from where you work. Of course you usually get more bang for your buck if you live farther away, but if you spend two hours a day commuting that’s two hours a day less your going to be spending in your big old house. You’re also not factoring in the cumulative stress that you’re putting on yourself by sitting in traffic — which is making you unhappier. If you’re renting, the decision is even easier, get a smaller place and live closer to work. People always say that the reason they don’t move is because their friends and family are closer to their current place. But if during a typical week you go to work more often than you see your friends and family, then move closer to work. The “walkability” of your neighborhood is also going to make you happier. Around my apartment I have the places I frequent the most: a grocery store, a library, a coffee shop, and a park. I can walk to all of these places and I don’t’ have to drive. With this increased proximity you’ll have more have time in the day to do the things you love like read a book, go out to restaurants, or even exercise.
Think of people like electrons. Electrons float around and occasionally bump in to each other thus increasing their electric charge. This is the same for people and creativity. If you’re a creative person, there are random micro interactions that we have with other humans that multiply our creativity. Steve Jobs knew this and as pointed out in Jonah Lehrer’s book Imagine: How Creativity Works, he discusses the layout of the Pixar building. The bathrooms and coffee machines are placed in the center of the building because he wants people to have seemingly meaningless interactions that can at times, lead to greater inspiration and collaborations. 95% of the time it’s small talk nonsense but that other 5% leads to that much more creative ideas. That’s why there are writing groups, painting groups at the park, or photography meetups. Much like Hemingway describes in A Moveable Feast, artists in Paris wanted to be around other artists because their creativity would be amplified. If you’re an artist, you need to live in a neighborhood with other artists for your creativity to flow more efficiently. This is why successful artists flock to places like New York — do great artists move to New York or does New York create great artists?
A lot of the people that hate their job cite the reason that they stay is because they “love the people” they work with. This should be the same for your neighborhood. You should love the kind of people that live there. This is also going to increase your chances of finding a mate. Let’s take an extreme example: Phil lives in the backwoods of Minnesota and loves fly fishing and baking pies. His interactions with people are limited to those weekly runs to the post office and the general store 10 miles away. What are the chances Phil is going to find a girlfriend? Now let’s put Phil near a lake where there are a constant stream of new fly fisherwomen, how much more likely is Phil to find a girlfriend? By living in places where you have things in common with the people, then you’re going to up your chances for these random interactions. Next time Phil goes to the bar at Starbucks to put creamer in his coffee, he might saddle up right next to Miss January of Fly Fishing Swimsuit Monthly. Or he might eat his chicken salad sandwich next to a pie baking aficionado at the local cafe. Most of your daily interactions with people will be meaningless, but the one time it happens, then it will be worth it. It’s hard enough to meet someone from scratch anyway, so why not up your chances for these random encounters that can lead to more.
I’m not saying you should go well above your means to live in a Bel Air or a Greenwich, but I am saying you should pay a little more because it’s going to affect your overall happiness in non-quantifiable ways. Instead of living in Silverlake I could easily move to a cheap studio apartment in Koreatown, but how much more happy am I going to be with $100-$300 more in the bank per month. You can’t put a price on piece of mind and loving where you live. So pay a little bit extra to live in the neighborhood you want. Love where you live and it will become your “home”.
[Photo: Inside the Marc Chagall Museum in Nice, France.]