At a high school graduation one year, I was talking with a teacher about the kids who don't want to move away. While so many of their classmates can't wait to leave, some kids are happy to stay right where they are. “They’re minimalists,” he said.
That was cool. And it got me thinking that maybe the kids who stay will be happier than the kids like me who left their hometown as soon as they could. Why? Many reasons:
• They must be easygoing
Someone who wants to stay in their hometown likely gets along with their parents, and most everyone else. I figure they aren’t easily annoyed by people. And even if they are, they don’t hold grudges.
“Living in a small town taught me a lot about forgiveness,” a friend told me. “If someone pisses you off, but you know you’re going to keep running into them at the grocery store or your kids’ soccer games, it’s a lot easier to just let stuff go.”
It took a lot of time and effort for me to learn to let things go. I have to imagine that people who could always do that have had a lot more fun and gotten a lot more sleep in their lives.
• They likely have a built-in support system
One of the hardest things about moving to a new city is not having anyone else to call for help, even for the really small things. You wake up without creamer for your coffee or get halfway through a batch of cookies before you realize you don’t have enough flour. If you’re where you grew up, those things are likely just a couple of doors down.
And so is someone to help you bring home new furniture and take the old furniture away, take care of your animals when you go out of town and drive you home from a medical appointment.
And when you have a baby, you likely have a babysitter you already trust. You also don’t need to spend all your vacation time dragging a grumpy toddler along with its car seat and stroller onto a plane to see their grandparents. Or your child’s grandparents don’t have to spend their retirement fund flying to see you.
Starting over in a new city can be exhilarating. But when you get a cold and you pull the soup pot from the top cupboard and the thick ceramic plate you forgot was on top of it lands on your head, you realize that having someone nearby who could bring you soup is pretty great, too.
• They have a built-in sense of belonging
All humans want to feel understood and appreciated. Not feeling like they belong is a reason why many people leave their hometowns, especially those not wanting to suffer emotional or physical abuse for just being themselves.
So imagine how nice it would be to have that feeling from day one. To spend all stages of your life in a place with the same people, who know all the cool things and accept all the dumb things you’ve done. And later it’s really nice to have people around who remember what you were like before all the wrinkles and gray hair.
Every day would feel like how one young woman described returning home to work on a television set with her family, her childhood friends and her teachers.
“Growing up I was always focused on going elsewhere to work, but getting to come home and work in my hometown with the community that raised me was something really special. My second-grade teacher was there with us all week, girls I grew up doing ballet with were there, and my mom and brother were there.”
For kids who stayed in their hometown, days like that aren’t special events. They happen all the time.
Wherever you go, there you are. And unless you’re experiencing torture or deprivation, if you can’t make yourself reasonably happy wherever you are right now, there’s a good chance you will never be happy.
And that’s not to say we don’t need people with the desire to explore and achieve, to invent and discover. We certainly do. But when it comes to being happy, I think the people who have always been content with who and where they are have the best odds.