The Art And Science Of Why You Live Where You Live

The chatter in your head may be the real reason you live where you live.

When I first moved from Los Angeles to New York City a few decades ago, I had more than a few bones to pick with Los Angeles. 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; and 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 though still legitimate, 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 life's destiny. Ultimately, however, there was a more specific reason, that is often overlooked, which I'll get to later.

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.

Some moves are a running away from difficult-to-confront aspects of self. No matter where you move to, those problems you fled from will inevitably resurface. They will also likely continue to plague you on some level no matter which location you wind up at, or how many times you move, until those issues are dealt with... or they deal with you.

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 (for yourself or a family member), ideally, choosing where we would actually like to spend a lifetime -- or a good portion of it -- 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 afterward, our buildings shape us.

In an article in Psychology Today, called Does Your Personality Fit the City You Live In? the author Ronald E. Riggio, a Professor of Psychology, in referring to the Oishi study above, says

The researchers suggest that poor person-city fit leads to uncertainty, and this lowers self-esteem.

But of greater significance to me, he points out that although we can be affected by our surroundings they don't actually change our core personality.

...but, there are strong indications that the mix of individual variables with the physical variables of our surroundings can influence how we feel, what we do, and what we think about our lives.

I initially believed that I was leaving LA because of the LA cliches: its superficiality, surface reality, its obsession with status, fame and materialism. I carefully observed that there's a very thin line between obsessive narcissistic soul searching and an authentic process of personal and spiritual growth. And as thin a line as it is, there can be a profound difference in one's ability to attain a meaningful and lasting sense of fulfillment; and needless to say, sustain/maintain or create any relationship, especially if one is excessively solipsistic. And still today this seems more real than ever no matter where one is, even if LA tends to culturally emanate some of these attitudes and thus attract those who might also tend to be more vulnerable to this kind of self-centered excessiveness.

But these are just generalizations. I have great friends in both LA and New York, where I moved to and still live. In truth, what I've found that most fundamentally informed my move and more importantly, why I remained in New York is the conversation that I have in my head. Each city seems to be its own aquarium that we, its local citizens, swim in, fully immersed. Each aquarium seems to have its own conversations as part of its waters. It's a fact that what I seem to talk about in Los Angeles, the general conversation, is actually different than what I tend to speak about in New York. Not always, of course, and not always better or worse, though the ones I have in New York I prefer. But it is the conversation that I have in my head, between my ears, that is most important of all -- and I prefer that internal conversation in the New York waters. I'm talking about what I think about while walking down the street, or sitting in the subway or traffic, or lying in bed or staring out the window or sitting on a park bench. It is this version of myself that I like best. That doesn't mean that there are not similarly rough waters no matter where I would live. It just means that I'll deal with those challenges as my preferred, chosen self.

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