By Richard Leider and Dan Martin
April 12, 2017
U.S. journalist and women’s rights advocate Margaret Fuller once said that “a house is no home unless it includes food and fire for the mind as well as the body.” In some ways, the quote is even more poignant today than when it was written (19th Century), as American society has continued its inexorable shift toward the pursuit of physical wealth and tangible possessions. In doing so, we have risked losing sight of the true importance of “place” in our lives.
A place is, first and foremost, a tangible thing. It’s where we choose to live. The concept of place, however, does not just encompass our physical house or home; it refers to our entire environment – our friends, family, community, climate and even politics. In other words, our vision of place dictates both where and how we live.
It’s also a mindset, as finding contentment and satisfaction in our chosen place is a matter of perspective. For example, one can live in a fashionable, sprawling mansion with a beautiful family in an idyllic location, and still be deeply unfulfilled. And the opposite can be true, in that someone with few material possessions and modest social status can lead a joyful and contented existence. In fact, that’s exactly what research Robert Waldinger found when he reviewed the results of his 75-year study on adult development and happiness.
“We’ve learned three big lessons about relationships. The first is that social connections are really good for us, and that loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected,” said Waldinger. “And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely. And the sad fact is that at any given time, more than one in five Americans will report that they’re lonely.“1
Thus, the environmental factors included in our “place” play a crucial function in how we perceive our lives, especially when it comes to safety, comfort and stress. Think back to when you were a child; isn’t it incredible how well you can remember certain parts of your childhood home, and the powerful feelings those memories re-awaken? As we move through the different stages of life, our place becomes a buoy in a sea of constant change. If we are not comfortable with our physical place or the environment in which that place exists, we lose an important life anchor point.
As we can see from the results of Waldinger’s study, finding our place in the second half of life is perhaps even more critical than in early adulthood. Regardless of how we choose to spend our second half, whether it’s retirement in the traditional sense or a whole new adventure, we will invariably spend more time in our homes, in our communities and with our close friends later in life. As a result, the place we choose to live and the relationships we choose to build and maintain become paramount.
“Regardless of how we choose to spend our
second half, whether it’s retirement in the traditional
sense or a whole new adventure, we will invariably spend
more time in our homes, in our communities and
with our close friends later in life.”
Waldinger makes the point that these relationships don’t have to be smooth all the time; anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows that the ups and downs are part of what makes the good times matter. The key, according to Waldinger, is knowing you can count on your closest relationships when the going gets tough.
“Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective, that the people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper longer. And the people in relationships where they feel they really can’t count on the other one, those are the people who experience earlier memory decline.”1
article-graphic In other words, that “Home Is Where the Heart Is” pillow on your couch may have been right all along. Throughout our lives, we need to search out and pursue places that hold a special relationship for us. To make a place both special and our own requires a certain combination of characteristics.
Understanding the difference between your current and future place (or, in other words, where you are versus where you should be), is easier said than done. Just because the concepts are partially theoretical and philosophical does not make them less important, and certainly does not make them any easier to master — in many cases, quite the opposite. To help you get started, we have provided the following exercise and rubric, designed by Richard:
“WHERE I BELONG” EXERCISE:
Rate each characteristic below on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best possible fit with the characteristic and 1 being the worst possible. Your total percentage, tabulated from your scores in each category, will show how well your current place fits into your sense of place. The score will not only show which areas you can look to improve in the short term, but also how you may need to adjust the lens on how you view your Future Place.
Living in a climate in which I’m most comfortable, including seasons, days of sunshine vs. rainfall, temperature, air quality, etc.
Proximity to mountains, hills, lakes, desert, ocean, rivers, open spaces, trees, wildlife, cityscape, etc.
Real estate values, architectural styles, choices available, quality, aesthetic appeal, overall economy, etc.
Easy access to good healthcare, hospitals, preventative, special needs care, etc.
Commute time public transportation options, air travel, train travel, proximity to airport, etc.
Cost of Living
I can live comfortably and within my means, affordability, tax rates, cost of “quality of life,” gas, utilities, etc.
Opportunities for cultural stimulation, offerings breadth of choices, etc.
Pace of life, congeniality, ethnic diversity, access to nature, neighborhood openness, etc.
Civic responsibility, public services, crime rate, feelings of safety, etc.
Education system, college and university access, community education, lifelong learning activities, etc.
Religion and Politics
Close proximity to like-minded people, feeling a sense of belonging, religious and racial acceptance, diversity of religious and political life, etc.
Sports, arts, recreational experiences, nightlife, restaurants, hobbies, special interests, etc.
Job market, opportunities for part-time and second careers, business services, etc.
Proximity to Family and Friends
Driving distance or travel distance opportunities for you, your family, your spouse or partner to take part in, what the community has to offer, etc.
It’s important to note that place, while a vitally important aspect of creating a second half we can be proud of, is just one component of a larger whole. If you can combine a sense of place with an understanding of who we bring to what we do, and a true passion for doing, we can unlock our life’s purpose. For an introduction to purpose statements, one method of beginning to unlock purpose, take a look at Why Write a Life Purpose Statement on the Center for Financial Insight.
Richard Leider, founder of Inventure – The Purpose Company, is widely recognized as one of America’s preeminent executive-life coaches, for his work helping 100,000 leaders from over 100 organizations discover the power of their leadership purpose. Richard is the author of ten books including three bestsellers, and his books have sold over one million copies in 20 languages.
1Waldinger, R. (November 2015). What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness. TED Talks. Retrieved from TED.org.