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Where You Live Is Not How You Feel

Since living in Dallas, I have noticed a trend amongst many of the people who I work with. Many report an anxious “need” to leave this city, with the idea that once they leave, they will feel better. My social science thinking immediately got me analyzing this information, and comparing it to my own subjective data that I have collected in the past. Does Dallas really hold this power, or is there a missing piece to this equation? Evidence based on my prior work provides evidence of the latter.

First off, it is important to point out that I have no objections to people setting a goal to move. Different locations have their unique qualities and their own unique challenges. However where you live is like a relationship. It doesn’t make or break you, it enhances what you already have, and only temporarily relieves that pain that you are already living with.

Prior to living in Dallas, I lived in a much smaller city. While facilitating a substance abuse program, I noticed the same trend amongst my clients. It was quite common for them to say that a trigger for depression, sadness, or even use itself was that they were unhappy with where they lived. Although some of the specific complaints were different, the trend of misplaced frustration was the same.

In a video that I used for educational purposes, which featured two young girls who faced the same type of thinking, facilitated a discussion to challenge this very type of thinking. What made this more interesting is that these girls lived in London, claiming that there was “nothing to do.” In a large city, a large tourist attraction, could there really be nothing to do? This was more likely a mistaken perception that rationalized the heavy drinking that these two girls were using to medicate their boredom.

Other research shows that we don’t remember to appreciate what is around us. We forget to see what we have, and focus on what we don’t have. Research of extreme environments, such as the arctic, report findings of people wanting to go back to visit a place with little to do. Why? When people return from a place where it can be a challenge to find things to do, they remember to notice the small things around them. You don’t have to travel to Antarctica to feel content where you currently live. To achieve this, I recommend that you go back to the basics. Use your senses to notice the small things: smell the lilacs in spring, listen to music, rather than let it fade into the background, and enjoy the taste of dinner with your friends.

I don’t want to take the dream of moving away from you. If you have hobbies that you enjoy and another environment could provide increased opportunities to participate in them, then moving may be a good goal to set. If you have family that you want to be closer to, then moving may be a good idea. But neither of these things, nor Dallas, have the power of creating negative feelings, unless you let them.

So create a plan to move to another city, but not before asking yourself why you are unhappy where you are at. (i.e. Do you like what you do for a living? Are you happy with the relationships in your life?) Whatever questions you end up answering “no” to, create a plan to change that aspect of your life, so that you can feel better about it. With time, the plan to move will be within reach, and the baggage that you previously dealt with will be left behind.

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