You're thinking about moving, from your hometown or college town or wherever you've been lately. Perhaps you've just graduated and are pursuing jobs in several states. Or you need to relocate so your spouse can find a better job. Or maybe you and your partner come from different cities, and you're considering those so your kids can grow up near some extended family.
I've made plenty of location choices based on such practical reasons. I moved to Houston for my first writing job, London for career advancement and small-town Mississippi for a spouse's work. Another spousal job landed me in a coastal Florida city I've come to dearly love. I'm never leaving.
I found my personal paradise by pure luck. We were thinking about finances and careers when we moved here, not long-term happiness. But the location has so shaped my life, in such good ways, that I've thought a lot about how, had I tried to, I might have found it on purpose rather than by chance. I've compiled these musings into a laundry list of factors -- 21 mostly data-based questions I could have researched before the move -- that would have clued me in early on to the joy this place brings me.
Starting here, I've divided my 21 questions into three articles aimed at helping others (including my adult kids) gauge where in this country they might be happiest. In many cases, I've pointed out resources beyond basic ogling and Googling that can help answer them. You can use it to compare the locals, the landscape and the economics, including real estate, of all your relocation possibilities. Build a spreadsheet, if you're so inclined.
Few of these questions relate to jobs and finances. Yes, my dream city offers me a comfortable income, but so did many others. And no, the beach is not a primary factor in my satisfaction here. That's one of the many ways my happiness triggers may differ from yours. The beauty of the list, I think, is that you can weight any one factor according to your own beliefs and priorities.
In researching this article, however, I learned that the things I love about my location line up well with findings in expert studies on happiness. (Dan Buettner's book "The Blue Zones of Happiness" does a great job of distilling serious research into the characteristics of happy people and places.)
For example, the research says spending a lot of time with people who make you laugh and have your back is one of the surest paths to happiness. About a third of my questions (those below) are aimed at determining whether the people already living in the location could become this social network for you -- meaning, your community in the most intimate sense.
Part 2 will look at whether the landscape and infrastructure of location are conducive to regularly connecting with this community. Part 3 offers questions to judge the financial impact of living there. Because while excessive cash doesn't buy happiness, it's harder to find even contentment when stressed about paying basic bills.
I hope that just going through my list will have you thinking in unexpected ways about how location affects your mood and your life. To start, let's find out about the people in your prospective destination.
--Are people in the community especially young, married, childless or educated?