When I first moved from Los Angeles to New York a few decades ago, I had more than a few bones to pick with the City of Angels. This was before how “bad the traffic is” started off every conversation, before real estate prices in Venice were the highest in the whole city, before the reality of a serious drought made pebbles hipper than a green lawn.
My bones were personal and specific, as bones usually are that help justify a huge move—even if those justifications are simply excuses for deeper, even unconscious reasons for leaving a place… or for moving to a new city.
For me it was time for a reinvention of self—and time was running out. I was coming to that age where if I did not make a radical adjustment… I very likely would never make it. I would have still had a life, possibly even a fatter financial life—but, at least for me, it wouldn’t have been the life that I aspired to, filled with the kind of work, interactions and cultural access I wanted and believed that I needed in order to fulfill my destiny. Ultimately, however, there was a more specific reason, which I’ll get to later.
Choosing where you live has to do with matching an internal, complex matrix of personal style, personality modes and even brain wiring with your surroundings.
We all know that if you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans. And that might include your plans of where you want to live.
Let’s face it: Even being able to choose where you live is an amazing luxury—and one that isn’t always money-related. “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose,” Dylan sang. And sometimes having things—including, say, relationships—can also inhibit one’s freedom to live wherever they damn well please.
Some moves are motivated by a desire to run away from difficult-to-confront aspects of oneself. But no matter where you move, internal problems will inevitably resurface. Other moves are about escaping from conditions that are simply oppressive. In many ways that can be way less about where you go as much as what you are leaving behind. Aside from having to move to a specific location for work, career, education, or a health imperative, choosing where you live has to do with matching an internal, complex matrix of personal style, personality modes and even brain wiring with your surroundings.
Winston Churchill famously proclaimed that “we shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us.”
Obviously, it is common sense that for most of us living in a tiny, low ceiling box without any natural light at all would be a bummer compared to chilling in a spacious, sunlight-filled pad. Duh, right? But there is a body of research that suggests that environment can affects us in a deeper, more profound way than we might realize.
Whereas introverted types might prefer, if not thrive, in mountainous terrain, extraverted types tend to like flatter terrain where social connectivity is more readily available.
Victoria C. Plaut, one of the authors of “The Cultural Construction of Self and Well-Being: A Tale of Two Cities,” a study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, states that “Place does shape people at a fundamental level,” though the study does present numerous exceptions and caveats. Interestingly, it emphasizes that early modes of living, particular ethos and values of a city, tend to persist.
Contrasting Boston and San Francisco, the study suggested that the clichéd themes of Boston’s “ ‘old and established’ history and cultural products emphasize tradition, status, and community, and social norms are relatively tight;” and in contrast San Francisco’s themes reflected “ ‘new and free.’ ” Furthermore, “San Francisco’s history and cultural products emphasize unlimited possibility, egalitarianism, and innovation, and social norms are relatively loose; accordingly feelings and selves are relatively less contingent on others.”
But beyond those notions, people who live in either of these cities tend to take on each city’s modal attributes and values. Of course not everyone in San Francisco gets jiggy with polyamorous relationships, and certainly not everyone in Boston is a diehard Red Sox fanatic (though a lot are!) —but, the authors explain, “We do suspect that if you’re primarily used to one of them, and you uproot yourself, or get placed in another context, you’re going to feel some disorientation.” And in the The Atlantic’s CityLab article, “Turns Out Where You Live Really Does Shape Who You Are,” writer Emily Badger speculates that this disorientation is “not just jet lag, or missing your friends. You’ve landed in a new culture.”