7 Big relocation mistakes


Last fall I took my kids to Hermosa Beach. It was a big moment for me because the whole time I was playing professional volleyball, in my 20s, I dreamed I would have a family and live in Hermosa.

It’s a great beach town with top-notch volleyball. There’s proximity to good career opportunities in the LA area, and a culture of kids growing up with sand in their hair.

The day we arrived I realized that it might be really hard to leave. I worried that maybe I’d never go back to the farm. And the more the kids loved the water, the more closely I looked at For Rent signs. I thought maybe I could split my time between the beach and the farm.

But then something happened. We didn’t miss only The Farmer (who doesn’t like to leave the Farm). We missed the animals, and the feeling of being in a cozy warm house surrounded by snow.

Which made me realize that when we think about relocation, we think about the wrong stuff.

1. We focus on what we gain instead of what we lose.
When people think about relocating they think almost exclusively about what they will gain by going to the new city, but psychologically we are affected much more by what we lose.

For example, if we sell stocks high and win, the emotional impact is less than if we sell stocks low and lose. We hate losing, and we are hard-wired to care more about what we lose. So instead of thinking about what you’ll gain by moving, think about what you’ll lose. What will you miss? Because that’s what you’ll think about the most.

Think about what you are actually willing to give up. Each relocation is really about giving up stuff that you have now that you won’t have later. Getting new, fun stuff is going to be great. But knowing what you can do without is more important. And more mature. Because the most adult decisions in your life are ones that put severe limits on other possibilities.

2. We underestimate the commute.
I know this one very well. You think you have something that outweighs everything—the big house, the fun job, the good schools—for me it was living on a farm.

But if that entails a huge commute in order to get everything you want, well, then the truth is you can’t have everything you want. The commute makes you more unhappy than any of that stuff can make up for.

3. We waste time visiting in person before moving there.
When you decide where to live, it should be based on the essential issues—proximity to people you love, ability to earn a living, and so on. These are questions you can answer online, or with a phone call to a friend or relative.

To try to find out if you are a cultural fit by visiting is absurd. It is impossible to get the sense of a city from just one visit. A large city is different block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, and you could not get a taste of all of them in a visit. You will have to read about them and trust statistical analysis in order to choose.

So a visit to a city gives you a skewed view and will simply mess up your decision-making process by giving too much weight to sketchy data. Wherever you decide to move, a good real estate agent will know exactly where in the area you should live.

4. We overestimate the raise.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman summarizes decades of happiness research this way: “It is only a slight exaggeration to say that happiness is the experience of spending time with people you love and who love you.” (via Jonah Lehrer in Wired)

So then it should come as no surprise to you that if you are relocating away from people you love in order to get more money, you should think twice.

Nattavudh Powdthavee of the University of London did the computations to show that you need to get a raise of $130,000 to compensate for the happiness you will lose by moving away from friends and family.

5. We think we are an exception.
Look at the demographics of the city. You are normal. You are regular. You are going to become the mean of your demographic. It’s the law of nature. Average is average because that’s what most people are. You make your life overly complicated by living in a fantasy world where you are not typical.

Once you accept that, you can use research to its full benefit. For example, even if you earn $500,000, you will not feel rich if all your neighbors earn a lot more than you. This is the law of financial happiness – that it’s relative, not absolute, and you feel best when you are an average earner in your community. Too high and you feel like an outcast, too low and you feel desperate.

The same is true of city living. Cities are not appealing to normal parents. This is because marriages do not stay together when two parents need to earn huge incomes. Women simply do not want to have their kids raised by nannies. This means that only families where there is a single wage earner in the very highest of brackets does city living look appealing. Otherwise, the compromises a family makes to live in a city leaves them short on benefits. (If nothing else, parents who work all day and tuck kids in to bed every night have no time or energy to enjoy the cultural benefits of a big, expensive city.)

6. We trust a cost-of-living calculator.
The problem with this tool is that it gives you information you can’t use. You need to know which city will make you happy, not which city will save you $20,000 in housing costs.

Let’s say you’re thinking of moving from San Francisco to New York City. They’re both really expensive to live in, so the difference in your salary isn’t going to matter. You should probably think harder about their cultures than about money; very few people fit in well in both cities, and most feel like they belong in one or the other. A calculator can’t tell you that.

Now let’s say you’re moving from New York City to Los Angeles. You’ll save money on housing, of course, but you’ll need a really good car.

In L.A., a BMW is totally reasonable. You’ll end up spending more time there than in your apartment. In NYC, however, owning a BMW is commonplace only among millionaires. For most New Yorkers, having a car like that is absurd—they just don’t drive enough. But cost-of-living calculators don’t have a “BMW: yes or no” option.

7. We overlook key research.
When I relocated from NYC to Madison, I did tons of research. I knew everything about happiness and economic development and I knew what I was getting into even though I never stepped foot in Madison before I moved there.

But I ignored a crucial piece of research: The schools. I simply could not believe that the schools were as bad – relative to the rest of the country – as all the data showed. It’s a university town, I reasoned. It’s liberal. They must raise taxes a lot for schools. I couldn’t believe it. But it was true. And I ended up having to leave Madison because the schools were so bad.

Then I moved to the country. I paid a lot of attention to the research about optimizers. People in the country are generally content with a relatively simple life with few options. City people complicate their lives with lots of choices for all the best stuff, but that doesn’t make them happy. And you become like the people you live with. Really.

So I decided to become a content, country person by moving to where they live.

It turns out that choosing a location is a lot like choosing a mate. What you decide to overlook ends up being the most important part of your decision. You know what is going to be hard about the life you are choosing and you know that you are deciding to ignore it and go ahead with the choice anyway. We never really know if we are making a good decision or if we’ll have to get over it.

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  1. Robert
    Robert says:

    We did a tour of many cities to decide where to settle down. It turns out you have to visit to understand the real estate prices and the commute. Some places look like they have similar housing costs in the stats on paper, but those stats aren’t fine-grained enough (they’re usually for a wide area that includes 5 minute commutes and hour-long commutes, and they’re not for a narrow enough slice of house sizes/types).

    In reality, in city A you can have a 5-minute commute close to amenities for the same price as a 45-minute commute in city B, but they look kind of similar or at least not hugely different in the stats.

    For schools too, the exact neighborhood matters…

    So you really have to pick a neighborhood or list of neighborhoods, not a city. And online stats about neighborhoods are crap. Have to visit and collect data.

    The thing to do is get really specific. Find a bunch of sample plausible-looking houses on Trulia or whatever and go drive by them. (Don’t fall in love with the houses, they won’t be on the market by the time you move. Just go compare the reality and the neighborhood to the real estate listing appearances.) You can find actual commute lengths and actual housing prices that are actually on the market this way.

    Even after all the effort, I think people often get stuck with the miserable commutes because “within 15 minutes of my house” just isn’t a wide enough radius for most job searches to be successful. And if you have two earners in the household, scoring two jobs both within 15 minutes would be some kind of miracle.

    A tip that worked for us: think small city. The right kind of small city has lots of nice features, but doesn’t have remotely the downsides of the big cities. In particular you aren’t forced an hour away to afford a family. There are lots of great small cities out there.

    • Midwest Melissa
      Midwest Melissa says:

      This is why I like living in Milwaukee, an often-underrated city. This city is so easy to get around, and I can afford a great house with tons of character right near a gorgeous park and Lake Michigan. My very short commute takes me along the coast of the lake. The schools, however, are problematic (but that problem exists many places).

  2. kate
    kate says:

    you could not be more timely… i am struggling to figure out if we should move from DC to NC (still a city, Raleigh or Charlotte. the low cost of living, short commutes, and proximity to family/friends are all intoxicating). My commute is hell, and yet, even if we move, i am the breadwinner by a long shot.
    But you are so right, i keep struggling with what i will be giving up. Sometimes i think the bliss of not realizing that is so that we actually leap. Knowing what i would give up keeps me paralyzed on the fence of indecision (and unhappy)

    • Teri
      Teri says:

      Kate, I am struggling with the same thing. Knowing what I will be giving up keeps me paralyzed as well and very frustrated at my indecision. The way I am looking at it is….I want to look back on my life and have no regrets. And the biggest regret would be looking back on my life at the things I didn’t do rather than the things I did. I am at a point where my kids are grown. I am single, financially stable to even take a pay cut, no bills, and nothing keeping me here except the most important reason in the world, my kids.

      • Cheri
        Cheri says:

        I too, have looked in depth about what I would be giving up if i moved and feel stuck. Here, my home is paid for and I have some good friends, an established business (which i won’t lose, just add to) and I like my church family. Also, I am single and debt-free; plus, my only family is my elderly father for whom I am his caretaker (he lives with me). BUT, I REALLY think I want to move back to Another city and state in which I was very happy years ago. The main problem is, most of the family and friends that I had in that area have either died or moved off. I am very outgoing and easily make good acquaintances. Most all of my customers have become friends; And a few very close friends. The thought of starting over exhilarates me more than it scares me, But I don’t know if I’m fooling myself into thinking it would be a good decision to move back just because I miss the area and have good memories from being there before. Plus it’s such a large area I would be moving to, I’m not even sure what part to try to move to. A lot of options, but also a lot of criteria to be met for choosing correctly. I very much agree with this being almost as important of a decision as choosing a mate. Comments please.

    • Sherry Piotter Richardson
      Sherry Piotter Richardson says:

      We moved from Florida to Charlotte which has proven to be a bad decision. Our family , friends, community meant more than we realized. Now we are trying to scrape together funds to move back.

      Penelope- thank you for sharing this. I wish I had seen it last year BUT you dont know what you’ve got til its gone!

      • Elke
        Elke says:

        I moved from NJ to Charlotte, NC and I didn’t do my research on jobs its been 3 yrs and I’ve been temping its all in who you know to get a job and I have no family here. I visited NC one time and decided to relocate bad mistake I’m not happy her and I’ve decided to move back to NJ a place where I’m more familiar and all my support is for me and my 12 year old son.

        • ki
          ki says:

          I totally understand how you fell, we relocated to NC from Delaware for my husbands job and I gave up a great job to move here. It has been over 2years and I still cannot find work. I am trying to figure out how to get back home asap

  3. Tracey
    Tracey says:

    But what if you are trying to relocate BACK to family, friends, comfort, etc from the crazy wishful move to the city four years before? You know you would make less upon moving back but you the advantage of those you love outweighs that right?

    So how do you do it right?

    • Sherry Piotter Richardson
      Sherry Piotter Richardson says:

      Tracey: please tell me the feedback you have received and if you made the move back. We are in the EXACT same situation. Big mistake!

      Excellent and well written advice!

      • Calah
        Calah says:

        I would also like to know how this went for you! I’m in the same situation. I moved to another state and have been here for several years, make good money, know my way around but I’m tired of being so far from my family. I’m planning a move back to my home state this fall and I’m pretty nervous.

  4. Tracey
    Tracey says:

    Ps for me it was moving from del mar, CA to Brooklyn where I fell in love and got married. Now we want to move back to San Diego.

  5. Tom
    Tom says:

    Penelope, your writing just keeps getting better and better.

    I’m just blown away by this wise, beautiful, deceptively simple article.

    Thank you.

  6. Marc Roston
    Marc Roston says:

    I’m astounded…a seemingly accurate quote, by an economist no less!

    Okay, so on the path of Nobel prize winning economists, from Herb Simon’s autobiography on relocating from Chicago to Pittsburgh, where he lived the next 50 years in the same house:

    “…on a trip to Pittsburgh in April 1949, I took a long walk early one morning through much of the north part of Squirrel Hill. Just before this visit, I had drawn on a map of Pittsburgh a circle of one mile radius around the Carnegie Tech campus, for I was resolved to walk to work instead of commuting, and had checked the census tract data to discover which portions of this area were inhabited by college-educated, middle-class families. I looked in these portions for a house we could afford.”

    • victoria
      victoria says:

      Heh. I live in Pittsburgh and that was roughly our metric for picking where to live, but a five-mile radius to work rather than one. Squirrel Hill is great. We live in the lower-rent side of the neighborhood, but it’s still a great place to live. And speaking of cities where you can live in a decent neighborhood with kids for cheap……

  7. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    City doesn’t necessarily equal expensive. Not all cities are New York or L.A. We’re currently in Cleveland – can you say cheap freaking real estate? We’re renting huge square footage just outside the city limits for a fraction of what we’d pay for something similar in our old, very suburban and rural areas. Of course, we don’t depend on the local economy for our livelihoods, so that helps.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think the operative word here is “outside”. You live just outside Cleveland. And, having dated a guy in Shaker Heights for a while, I know that the “just outside” parts of Cleveland are all families — not single people.

      Which is what the point of that research is — that single people live in cities – even the size of Cleveland – and people with families live “just outside” (Croton-on-Hudson, NY; Encino, CA; Evanston, IL; Middleton, WI; Pepper Pike, OH. These are all examples).

      The best quote from that link is this one: “Even relatively successful cities have turned into giant college towns and "post-graduate" havens – temporary way stations before people migrate somewhere else. This process redefines cities from enduring places to temporary resorts.”


      • Erin
        Erin says:

        Is Evanston really cheaper than Chicago?? I might have to look at more data, but Evanston seems really upperclass to me and expensive. And Chicago can be affordable depending where you live. I work in Schaumburg and most of the people I work with who live in Chicago have either much more reasonable rent, or approximately the same, as what those of us who live in the Chicago suburbs pay. I actually commute an hour (at least) to Schaumburg from a smaller town in McHenry County. The rent there isn’t much cheaper than if I tried living closer to work (though I’d be paying less in gas). Northern Illinois in general is just expensive. I’ve considered many times maybe moving across the border to Wisconsin to be by friends in Milwaukee.

      • Monica O'Brien
        Monica O'Brien says:

        It depends how you define “cheaper.” Do you mean cheaper in general or cheaper per square foot?

        Evanston is definitely a family area right outside of the city. 30-40 somethings with families live there (in fact, I’ve had several bosses – Gen X age – who live there). You can get a lot more space for your money and still be fairly close to the city by public transit.

        Living in Chicago near the downtown (I live in West Loop) is super expensive by comparison. If I wanted to get a place here with a family my rent would be $3000+ per month. (Or I’d own a tiny condo that was $350k+, and it would be a one-two bedroom.) My current rent is less than $2k for a tiny one-bedroom apt. A 3-bedroom in the city is not only difficult to find but also likely over half a million dollars to own.

        So yes, Evanston is still expensive compared to the rest of the country but it’s definitely where the 30-40 somethings with young families live when they want a city feel without the insane price tags. (The Metra is a 15-20 min ride to downtown, compared to 45-60 mins from the ‘burbs.) Also, if you look at the ‘burbs of Chicago and the houses go for $400k+ within an hour driving perimeter of the city. So people who want city lifestyle move their families to Evanston over a ‘burb – it’s nearly the same price.

        I think rent in the ‘burbs is still much cheaper than rent in the city… yeah, you can rent within city limits for about the same price if you look really hard and are willing to downgrade on lots of essential amenities. I have friends who do it, but they don’t have laundry, don’t have a lot of square footage, don’t have dishwashers, don’t have parking… I mean, all stuff I wouldn’t want to give up. They also aren’t near public transit, which makes traveling painful. I guess it just depends on what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to compromise on.

  8. Gib
    Gib says:

    Penelope Cruz forgive my constant contrariness in my comments…

    Maybe I’m an outlier for your data, but sometimes what we gain is positive, but what we lose is also important.

    You’re focused on child rearing, but rural areas are very hard on old people and so are cold places.

    I grew up in New Jersey near New York and Calgary, Alberta, Canada near the tundra and glaciers.

    I moved to Los Angeles for school and stayed. I love my family and friends, but needed a change and escape from the cold and dark of the easy coast.

    I have been blessed to have an easy time making new friends whom I love (ENFP), so the first eighteen months were hard, but well worth it.

    In your life, I cannot help but notice Melissa came into your life long after you moved. I’m sure you’ll continue being great friends even if you move to the beach. Modern life is more mobile and dynamic than our childhoods.

    My father ended up moving here so I could take care of him. The warm weather and the big city have been very important.

    My mother lives in a pere enclave of the USA that’s so small it’s not even a town. When she had health problems in BFE, a helicopter had to fly to pick her up because an ambulance would never have made it across the border in both directions.

    They moved there in part because it was just across the border from my step father’s brother, who has since died.

  9. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    Oh Kate, I’m in a similar conundrum… leaving the suburbs of DC for… where? Charlotte does look appealing, but so does Wisconsin. Or Kansas. I’ll be leaving family here, but they want to leave too. And will, soon.
    At this point, I’m chanting ‘anywhere but here!’ I’m tired of the traffic and the ‘me-first’ mentality. Good luck on your decision making.

    • kate
      kate says:

      haha Kelly! well i can vouch for Charlotte! it’s a pretty city and lots of transplanted NYCers trying to be more laid back (all the financial stuff there). kind of a weird mix of northerners and southerners and a lot of ‘new’ city. It’s a nice and easy place to live. schools aren’t terrible, but certainly not NoVA or MoCo schools. if you are considering those other cities, i assume you like snow! Charlotte rarely gets snow but they do get ice… the best part is the lack of traffic and a lot more friendliness! i am so tired of traffic and mean people…

  10. Dave
    Dave says:

    Penelope, from experience I’m sure you’d admit that this list could easily stretch to 50 or 100 items if you had more time to write (and 7 is some kind of writer’s guideline, too?). Perhaps next time list the 7 Great reasons to relocate. The first one might be, “To better appreciate my friends and family.” How would someone who has never relocated know this beforehand? By reading your blog, of course!



    • Teri
      Teri says:

      It just depends on how you look at things. Focusing on what you will lose is a negative. You could also focus on what you will gain, a positive, rather than on what you will lose, a negative. You will only lose it if you want to. We could change the name lose for change.

  11. Abigail Gorton
    Abigail Gorton says:

    My relocation was huge – London to San Francisco. Personally, I was happy from the day I arrived, and I fell right into the welcome of an ex-pat community. Through that community I met a few families who were stalled, pained and consumed by the overwhelming homesickness of at least one member of the family. It did not matter how great the scenery, clean the air, fantastic the sporting opportunities were. They could care less about new friends, new cultural opportunities. It just.was.not.working for them. So comparing the positive attributes, cost of living and length of commute was irrelevant. It was trumped by the over riding misery of just not wanting to be here. Few of them got through it. Most of them cured it by going back, with or without the marriages they had arrived with.

    Another thing I have seen… IMHO it has become even harder for parents to relocate teen and tween kids in recent years. Instead of the kids being forced to make the most of it and find new friends, they can put their time and energy into maintaining the old friendships online. Nothing wrong with old friends form far away, unless they stop you making near friends nearby.

    • Shelly
      Shelly says:

      Abigail, I live in Los Angeles and experience the same thing with the people I meet. I moved here from Atlanta and miss home and family terribly. I have had about 7 close friends move away from LA since I have been here, either from the cost of living or because they miss family. Even though the weather is phenomenal and there is so much to do they are compelled to go. LA does have far more job opportunities and there are more single people. The problem also is a lot of people want to STAY single, which is not what I am looking for. This is a very timely email because I weigh these decisions in my head on a daily basis, even as it is sunny and beautiful outside I am torn. I think I have satisfied my curiosity of living in a major city. The property taxes, crime, congestion, distance from family and cost of living have made it unappealing. I would also rather read about celebrities in an US Weekly than participate in any entertainment activities.

  12. Anne-Sophie
    Anne-Sophie says:

    Good points. Especially the point about the schools. My husband’s daughter still lives with his ex-girlfriend in Berlin, Germany and we all agree that by the time she has to go to school, she’ll move to Zurich, Switzerland because of the horrible schools in Berlin.
    I think that when you are alone or married without children, it is easier to make these huge decisions, but as soon as children come into play, you really have to do your homework.

  13. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    You make several good points in this post. I think the bottom line is that people tend to fantasize about their desires and ideas and don’t take into account reality. In this way, this post applies to people’s ideas about careers too. I live in an affluent area and as a high school teacher, so many of my students tell me they want to be lawyers, doctors or be something that makes tons of money. But none of them have a clue about whether or not they would actually like it.

  14. HS
    HS says:

    You make excellent points here ! I just relocated at the first of the year and these things are all true. Fortunately, I really do like the new area I have moved to, and I did look at the losses but subconsciously I knew what they were and decided that the benefits far outweighed them. Fitting in, feeling like you belong, at your new location, is important. A high income bracket is not a barrier to misery. I feel great here in the new place and overall everything has fallen into place. Too good to be true or maybe it’s a sign that things happen for a reason….

    • Teri
      Teri says:

      But if you always concentrate on what you will lose you will never gain and move forward, try new things and LIVE!

  15. Jen
    Jen says:

    I’ve lived in 5 places in my life and realized this quote does ring true “wherever you go, there you are”

  16. Kim
    Kim says:

    My wisest creative director once told me that a new job must meet two objectives: you must want to leave where you’re leaving. And go where you’re going. Seeming simple criteria, but not really. Thanks, Penelope.

  17. Marita
    Marita says:

    Your post really makes a lot of sense, but I think that can also be the problem with it. In the end what was most important to you won out – being close to your friends and family.

    I’ve moved several times in my life. Even though I did some research before each move, what won out in the end was always what I wanted most: to satisfy my curiosity about living in a specific place or country, to go with my gut feeling, to be excited about life, being able to offer specific experiences to my kids and so on. All the research data out the window!

    And yes, big cities can be expensive, but what’s even more expensive are the trips to my folks and old friends! Yes I do miss them, but I would have been miserable staying where I was, just to be close to family and friends. In the end the right choice for me was to nourish my heart and soul, regardless of thinking of what I would lose or leave behind. Live is short :)

    • Emma
      Emma says:

      Marita I loved your comments (Even though they are a couple of years old now) I dream of moving all the time. I moved a few years ago from London to a small quiet area with my children. It is a beautiful place but I’m afraid it is not for me! I am struggling with trying to decide where to live as I have my family now to take into consideration! I am not sure if I miss the city as I am not working (I need a part time job) or because it is generally just too quiet for me.

  18. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    I did make that leap–TWICE. After 26 years in San Diego and a job loss, I sold my house and moved back to Long Island to be close to my siblings and extended family. It had always been a dream of mine to “go back home.” But I left my daughter, age 20 at the time, behind. It was winter when I arrived, and I started to feel like I had made a mistake. After 5 months of missing my daughter, I moved back to San Diego. Four years later, I did it again. I had been out of work for more than 2 years, and figured I’d have a better chance at getting a job back East. I had been telecommuting a contract job, but was hoping to get a permanent job. I got to New York last summer and stayed with relatives who were incredible. But, again…I left my daughter behind. I was MISERABLE. In a perfect world, I’d have ALL my family close by. Penelope you hit the nail on the head…I only wish you had written this piece a year ago. After 6 months back East this time around, I realized that the loss I felt not being close to my daughter outweighed the happiness I felt being close to the rest of my family. So…I hopped back in my car and came “home” to San Diego. It’s where I feel at peace. Move back East again? Not a chance–just plan on visiting a lot more.

  19. Marie
    Marie says:

    I grew up in the South and could not get out of there fast enough once I turned 18. (Of course, I visit my family and hometown friends 2-4 times a year now because I miss them dearly.)

    So I moved to a tiny but extremely liberal and hip college town for the next 4+ years and loved every second of it because I was surrounded by people I wanted to be around.

    Unfortunately, I left because at 22 I thought “OK, finished college, there aren’t any FULL-TIME JOBS here (even though I had no clue what I was looking for) so I should move somewhere, anywhere and I followed a boyfriend BACK TO THE SOUTH so he could go to law school. I was miserable and worked crappy jobs and cried a lot and realized I needed to apply to graduate school.

    I got into several graduate schools FULLY FUNDED so had lots of options and it eventually came down to small but EXTREMELY creative but freezing town in the midwest where the people seemed amazing, but I would have been isolated in terms of the Winters and what big cities were around me OR I could go to beautiful sunny Southern California where I *thought* would be good for my media-related career after graduation. I chose the beautiful sunny city that essentially paid me to go there and I was miserable.

    But I got a full-time job in my field before graduating and made the transition to Los Angeles effortlessly. But all I do is work now. I feel trapped and like I don’t know how to transition out of this job. There are so many friends of mine in this city, but I never get to see them because I’m always at work. And I haven’t had a significant other since moving to California YEARS AGO. And yet, I’m not saving any money even because of rent, because of gas to drive to work, because of accessories I feel are necessary to seem competent in my field (iPhones, computers, software) so I feel extremely stuck. Also, I live SIXTEEN MILES from work but because it’s L.A. it takes me an hour to get there and an hour to an hour and a half to get back home driving. I am grateful for my my moments alone in my home so much that I forget to try and spend this time with other people.

    So last year, I made the decision to apply to graduate school again–this time for what I really wanted to study and not what I thought I had to do, what might make me more marketable for a job and if I get in, I’m going to go to the place where the people make the most sense for me to spend time with and not where someone makes me the best financial offer. I know it’s easier said than done and I’m going to miss my Los Angeles friends dearly, but I feel like I need to restore who I am by doing something I love for awhile so I can be the friend they met in the first place.

  20. Monica Ray
    Monica Ray says:

    Great article and remarkable insight. I just made a move away from my family in Montana to Portland, OR 6 months ago following my divorce.

    Traffic and parking are much more of a frustration than I anticipated and finding new friends and relationships has been much more difficult. And, you just can’t replace those family relationships. Am I any happier here than where I was before? Not really.

    I think what it comes down to is that if you’re unhappy in one place, you’ll be unhappy even when you move. You have to fix the source of your unhappiness first.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Great point, Monica. If you look at the research from positive psychologists they find that a full 75% of our happiness is determined before we are born – in our DNA.

      (This is from the book The How of Happiness – here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0143114956/?tag=ptrunk-20)

      Once we accept that, then often the ardors of moving seem superfluous. We need to work really hard on that 25%, which is all we can control, and it comes from small, every day things. Our core happiness has so little to do with things we get from a geographic relocation.


  21. amy
    amy says:

    That 130k figure to leave family and friends assumes you’re living and working in (and considering leaving) your hometown, something not many of us do anymore.

    You need to do the commute in real life. Many people LOVE the commute, if it’s a pleasant one, as it’s the only time of the day that is theirs alone.

    I totally disagree that marriages fall apart bcs of two parents earning big wages. From my experience, big wage earners are often people who have chased a dream and earned it ie, are happy people. My sister and her husband, two doctors, are the two most job-happy people I know. Yes, the work long hours. Doesn’t hurt so much if you love what you do. Not all moms want to be or are suited to be stay at home moms.

    It’s ridiculous to think you have to make a lot of money to live in a city. The avg salary in NYC is 60-something thousand dollars. I mean, open your eyes! Maybe you need to be in the top x% of your social circle to be happy, but I don’t. I live in NYC with a HHI around 120k with kids and it’s lovely here.

    Why wouldn’t you live where you want?

    • Vicky
      Vicky says:

      Yes, I grew up in NYC and that is how it is. Most people don’t make goobs of money. That city has the best vibrancy in the world.

    • Monica O'Brien
      Monica O'Brien says:

      This comment is insane to me. $120k HHI is a lot of money for most people in this country. I agree that it’s not much for NYC dwellers, but that’s because living in a big city like NYC *is* expensive compared to the rest of the country.

      • amy
        amy says:

        My comment was regarding her 500k salary item. Like, you wont’ be happy if you’re making 500k and your neighbors are making a lot more.

        We make 120k. SOME of our neighbors make more … A LOT more. SOME of them make 50x more. (SOME make a lot less) Some of them are happy and some are not. I’m happy. I’m in a great marriage, my kids are great, I love my work, I LOVE our local public school (that I researched to death when we looked at neighborhoods), I love my little apartment, I love my doctor, the parks, the weather, the museums, the pizza. I love my life.

  22. Anoel
    Anoel says:

    3 is really interesting to me. I moved to LA for college and I had a bunch of reasons why it was perfect for me…I flew there for the first time and I was HOME. So in the end both things were right. The car thing is exaggerating, you don’t need a BMW. I have a 12 year old car (salvaged) and it works fine and a halfway decent car is fine. If you want more public transportation, Santa Monica and Downtown have plenty.

    I’d say the best thing to do is move when you’re young, try out a few cities and follow a combination of curiosity and research to decide. Then settle down there and make some close friends and start a family. Unless you’re super close to your parents and hometown friends, it’s not as big as a consideration. For me, what I’ve gained: warm weather, beautiful nature, a city I LOVE, a TV/movie/music mecca and lots of diversity of everything is worth everything and more of what I lost.

  23. Libby
    Libby says:

    Does anyone really have good public schools? I don’t think I ever hear anyone say their public schools are great.

    I have been blessed that for two years my son had some great teachers, but the district and state are corrupt. So, there are good teachers who are having to put up with Georgia corruption.

    • Lauren
      Lauren says:

      I live in Clarke County, Georgia, which has the highest poverty rate in the USA, and there are GREAT things happening in our public schools here! We love our elementary school. I’m sure there’s plenty of corruption and such across Georgia, but educators and others here are working their butts off and making a HUGE difference in the lives of our kids.

    • Elizabeth Briel (@Ebriel)
      Elizabeth Briel (@Ebriel) says:

      My high school was in a dodgy area of the Twin Cities, but had an incredible magnet program. My classmates now work for Pixar, art museums, are positively impacting the community, or have started their own companies.

  24. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot
    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot says:

    The biggest mistake of all is to move because you’re unhappy and you think you’ll be happier somewhere else.

    Just like when you win the lotto and your happiness state eventually reverts to whatever it was before, so it is when you relocate.

    I’ve lived in eight different countries and lately we’ve lived on tropical beaches with a dream lifestyle. What we’ve noticed and then seem backed up by research is that these places have higher divorce rates than anywhere else. When people are unhappy in life in general and in their relationship they think a new start will fix it. It doesn’t.

    I agree with what you say about visiting being a waste of time up to a point. We moved from New Zealand to Panama without visiting after doing about 1,000 hours of online research but then ended up living in Costa Rica after visiting them both.

    It’s also true that people end up unhappy in their new places because of what they miss.

    If you hang out on the Poms in Oz forums for British people who have moved to Australia you’ll see that people say they’re leaving because they don’t like the beer and there’s no football on TV. Seriously! It’s tragic. These are people who spent years applying for Australian residency and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to move here.

    But sometimes they leave because they can’t find work or afford to buy a home and you’re right, they could have worked that out before they ever moved:)

    Still, I guess that dream of a happier life makes people want to move anyway.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      you will always miss a few thins when you relocate. I will always miss german bakeries, it does not mean I want to relocate back.

  25. Shanti
    Shanti says:

    As someone on the autism spectrum no.1 struck me because as soon as I realised I was moving to the city I wanted to take my starry sky with me. I thought more about what I would lose than gain. In fact, to me it never felt like I was moving and still now it doesn’t feel like I live away from home, minus the starry sky, that is.

    I even wrote a blog about it, if I’m allowed to share it:

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      i feel the same way Vicky!

      i mean, friends + fam are very important but if i lost them all as long as my husband is with me I can always rebuild my tribe.

      • Cheri
        Cheri says:

        I totally agree. However, I am single, no people kids (just furry ones), and don’t really want to hook up with somebody from here, because I want to move back to where I consider ‘home’. I was very happy there, Thoroughly loved the area and the friends, church, culture, etc. At the time I was married there. I know longer have my husband, But think I would like to move back there. The only problem is, I am established here; Having a home, friends, network, church, etc. I just keep going round and round in circles. I would like to have significant other in my life, But I don’t want to be stuck here forever. What to do? Comments?

  26. LTabak
    LTabak says:

    While I hate digressing over a minor point, I’ve been puzzling over your characterization of the Madison schools. I’ve had two children go through Madison schools and I currently coach tennis to 6 kids who are attending high school there. It’s certainly worked for this small sample — two of the high school students I work with received early admittance to Emory and Cal Tech over the past few weeks. Perhaps you mean the Madison schools were terrible for your kids because of special needs or circumstances? For these high-achievement students, the Madison schools seem to be exemplary — plus they pay for tutition at the University of Wisconsin for students who complete the available offerings in any subject. My son was enrolled in UW computer science courses as a high school junior and senior, and is now working as a software developer for a terrific start-up in San Francisco. Thank you Madison schools!

    • K
      K says:

      The “school ranking” sites in the links seem to go solely by test scores. In WI, they use the WKCE, which is a horrid test. Even then, if you do a little extra work, and isolate the “non-free/reduced lunch” kids’ test scores, you will see that Madison’s public school kids are doing pretty well. Urban schools are facing an increase in poverty, which does affect test scores. The suburban schools, which tend to have less poverty, will certainly have higher test scores. But there are many of us in Madison who feel the public schools are doing an excellent job…and our children are thriving.

    • Erika
      Erika says:

      Yep, there are some problems with her criticism of Madison schools. One is that that list of “best high schools” is composed of either specialized magnet schools in urban areas (which Madison doesn’t have) or high schools in highly affluent suburbs. And if a school isn’t in the top 500 in the country, does that make then automatically it bad? There’s a failure of logic there.

      The other problem is that Madison schools are much more diverse than those in the rest of the state (obviously except for Milwaukee). Elementary schools anywhere are highly variable by neighborhood, and unfortunately we have a huge achievement gap in our minority students here–so if you have a school with a higher %age of minority students, you’re going to have lower overall scores. The schools that have a more educated demographic among parents (Lapham/Marquette, Shorewood, Franklin/Randall, etc.) appear much higher in the rankings.

      So, as other commenters (sp?) have noted, it’s not enough to just pick your city based on schools–you have to pick your neighborhood too.

  27. RB
    RB says:

    I live in a painfully rural place right now and wonder how long I’ll be able to do it, because of a grave lack of likeminded folks nearby. I suspect I know the answer, but it’s too valid a point that you should fix what’s bugging you because similar moves have never achieved what I expected them to.

  28. Lesa
    Lesa says:

    I’ve moved a few times between the south and the midwest for either my job or my husband’s and we are currently living in the midwest. We have been here this time for about 2 1/2 years. I’ve noticed that it takes about two years in a new place to feel like I’m getting comfortable. For me that includes having a few restaurants we enjoy, meeting some of our neighbors, developing new local friends and contacts. It’s the opportunity to have regular contact with like-minded neighbors, coworkers, and new friends which really makes my world go ’round. But, I still really miss my family and friends “back home” and in all the other places we’ve lived. My husband does not miss the social and family contacts as much as I do. That’s been the most challenging for us; he is always looking forward and I am always missing what we left. I wonder if there is any gender-related difference in how people manage after a relocation?

  29. karelys
    karelys says:

    i live in a smallish town that everyone disses. i love it. i earn $13/hr. that can be very little money to so many people. but even with some debt we’re buying out house. my commute to work is 3-4 minutes in dry weather.

    I’m amazed at the things we can do because our spending allows it. We live under our income and we get to be really relaxed. we’re close to seattle (2-3 hr drive) and close to the beach and other places.

    we’re known as wine country. which is always fun to do.

    friday nights there’s salsa dancing ($5 cover) there is good restaurants at a short drive, etc.

    I am amazed at how life can be with so little and still…i feel i don’t have enough time to do everything i want.

    but i love that we see friends and family at least once a week.

    it’s amazing to feel this loved.

    when people want to move away normally they are escaping from something they got inside so no matter where they move they will always deal with the same problem.

  30. Dave
    Dave says:

    I feel like I disagree with most of your points today…but, of course I think I am always an exception, so no surprise. Actually, it’s not so much disagree as a different perspective:

    I have moved around a lot; jobs and homes. I don’t think any of the home moves were motivated primarily by unhappiness (except perhaps the one from the 2-bedroom mold-infested apartment), but were instead motivated by greater proximity to things we cared about. That could be people, but it could also be work and community. I guess we pretty quickly internalize your #1 and always concluded what we were giving up was acceptable.

    On #2, it’s all about the commute. I would not trade distance for whatever. We learned that one in our first home and the ridiculous commute we swore never again. Living in the suburbs is not worth the cost of working in the city and being disconnected from everything that matters to your family.

    On #3, the caveat is that you should rent and move before you buy. Understanding the neighborhoods and what it is really like to live somewhere is not something you can figure out online. You have to meet people who tell you how things really are. Then you wish you had bought a house a couple blocks over.

    On #4, you are right. Years ago, I thought you were crazy to say $40K is all you need (maybe say 80-100K in a city) but as you move out farther away and into wealthier areas, the expenses and expectations just keep piling up. But I don’t know…I think you just find a way to make it work. But a doubling of my salary is not going to be enough to make me want to relocate.

    #5 – I am an exception. While I agree with the law of financial happiness, I see the choice of living in a city very differently. The compromises you cite are what is necessary to live in the affluent suburbs, not the city. I should qualify that I guess…I’m talking about living in a neighborhood of a city, not downtown. But I know people who manage that too and find a way to live simply enough that they do not feel enslaved to a job to support their lifestyle choice. I see that a lot more in the suburbs.

    I do agree that it is foolish to look at a situation and wishfully think it will be different for you. But with eyes open, you can say that you know yourself well enough to understand that what others worry about, you don’t and that you can see value that others don’t. Absolutely there is still a steady stream of people moving away from the city…but people do have different perceptions of value and it is not so simply to say, you have kids now, you will be unhappy living in the city. Many people choose to make it work and are happier for it.

    #6 – right on

    #7 – but see #6 – the “research” is often inaccurate to the context that matters to you. Are the schools in Madison really that bad? What does that mean? Is it just test scores and automated rankings that measure more test scores? Or are the teachers apathetic and unsupportive? I’ve grown up in a rural school system, started my kids in a top suburban school district in the state and moved to an urban school with some of the lowest scores and most challenged kids. Each environment has its own sets of challenges. Those challenges become insurmountable if your other choices mean you cannot be connected to your kids school because you are always working or work 30 miles away.

  31. .L^
    .L^ says:

    The suburbs should be taken more seriously than they are. There is a reason that families move out of the city to the suburbs. Having said that, I think that is a bad move if it means a really long commute for you. Many suburbs have their own industry and if you can work near where you live your life becomes so amazingly better. I never would have believed that would make such a difference until I tried it.

  32. m
    m says:

    Fact checking needs to occur. NYTimes’ article yesterday on economist-couple’s (in Philadelphia who commute to Princeton; all violations of your rules)study indicates that higher-income two-earner couples are less likely to get divorced, not more, are happier than average. Easier to manage a dual-income household w/kids when you live within easy commuting distance to work; not everyone can work from home in their pajamas.

    Not all professional careers florish outside of major metropolitan areas: architects, corporate lawyers, managers, bankers, etc. who work within construct of major metropolitan markets.

    Also, choosing to relocate w/o personally confirming desired demographics, housing situation, pricing, school quality, employment opportunities for traveling spouse, etc is stupid for a professional relocating his/her family — unless your firm is “taking care” of it w/a sizable salary adjustment, hardship package, or corporate housing.

  33. JML
    JML says:

    I live outside a city with my husband and two children. Sometimes I really miss the city. Just the other day I moaned to my husband that I wanted to move back to the city. He indulged the conversation and listened as I described how we could make it work. Then he simply said that we would have to give up the yard and the garden. I had nothing to say. Considering what you would have to give up really does make the difference!

  34. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Although in general I thought this post was excellent, I disagree that cities do not appeal to normal parents. What doesn’t appeal to normal parents are long commutes and crappy schools.

    Too many metro areas don’t offer the choice of short commutes and good schools (although this will often come with the trade off of a smaller, often apartment/condo, home). In urban areas that do offer these things, families are flocking. Thousands of families with children live in DT Vancouver, for example. If both parents can walk to work or take transit 1-2 stops, and have some flexibility, there is plenty of time with the kids before and after school.

  35. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    Seasons make a difference, too.

    I moved to Pittsburgh during the blizzard of 1994. I moved there to attend school. I was snowed into the empty dorm for 1 week, knowing no one, unable to go anywhere, pre-internet. My fellow students already had their social groups, habits, and plans in full swing. There also wasn’t much milling about or casualness to travel in the dead of winter, when people are going from point A to point B as quickly and directly as possible, and bundled up to the point of anonymity.

    I’ve lived here now for almost two decades. We bought a house on a block where everyone has a porch, and this has facilitated relationships between neighbors – in the warm weather months. One neighbor moved from one ‘burgh neighborhood to another in the dead of winter. Even though she moved to a neighborhood in which she had family, the winter shut-in phenomenon left her feeling alone until spring was in full swing.

    I loved the weather in Phoenix, Arizona until the winter phenomenon of heat inversion lowered the air quality and kicked my asthma into high gear. By 10:30 am, I had blue bags under my eyes and needed to nap. I had never had daily asthma attacks until winter in Phoenix.

    When I moved to DC in late fall to take a contract position (leaving behind my home and my spouse), I kept in mind your blog post about friendships being the single biggest factor in happiness on the job. It made a tremendous difference in my quality of life, to know where to put my efforts, especially in light of my reason for the move and the season.

  36. samantha smills
    samantha smills says:

    I wonder if you think “gosh, I sure hope people continue to read the random “ping pong ball” info floating around in my head so I can continue to make money. Random comment yes…but no more random than say this article.
    You, loathing humans as you do (by no means am I degrading you..I’m a misanthropist as well) its just so much isn’t it?? All this back and forth and having to post your thoughts to the world..it would be far too much for me….Holy Hell…I bet you wish you could just be done with it and hole away..point is this..I get you and I hope you get to that point some day. Done with all of this nonsense
    May the wind be at your back

  37. SG
    SG says:

    Um–were you the one w/the domestic abuse tragedy/emergency that everyone was trying to save you from & now you’re writing about schools in Madison?! WTF? You must be living in several alternative realities…

  38. terri
    terri says:

    Nice that you found closure on your argument with yourself regarding relocating. It doesn’t mean you can’t make Hermosa Beach an annual vacation spot though. Then it will become special for your boys too.

  39. Arundhati
    Arundhati says:

    I can’t believe you’d do a ton of happiness research and what-not and miss researching schools! My take is that when you are thinking of relocating, doing abstract research such as happiness research or the research about optimizers is overkill at best and distracting at worst. While relocating, the focus ought to be on very practical things like career prospects, schools, crime, housing and proximity to friends/ family or hobbies you want to pursue.

  40. Damian
    Damian says:

    I disagree with the premise of ‘blindly’ moving with only data for those that have not the world experience of different locals.

    There was a similarity in your having lived in the Midwest, you saw a variety of suburbs of Chicago area, and visiting Wisconsin (or as FIBS would say, above the Cheddar Curtain) that helps in understanding the culture of Madison. While Madison is certainly not like the rest of Wisconsin, as no community represents an entire state the size of Wisconsin, it is indicative. This helps in trusting your understanding of what you can’t learn in one visit. Your experiences at both coasts and studying of data makes it possible to understand what you were getting into by moving back to the Midwest and to Madison, IMHO.

    But I agree, it is still a big leap that only many visits not as a tourist, but just pure listening to your inner voices ability to analyze all the ‘data’ would be the most successful guide.

  41. Elizabeth Briel
    Elizabeth Briel says:

    Every new city (or country) is a new relationship. You live with it every day, sleep with it at night. The more you move, the more you have a mental checklist of what will – and won’t – work for you in a new place.

    Excellent advice above: to move and experience many places while you’re still young, before you become inflexible. A good time to start doing that is during university. Definitely by the time you graduate.

  42. jane
    jane says:

    You can make the statistics tell any story you want, but the truth of it is, none of this external stuff will ever fill that hole inside you, will ever make you happy. You can keep searching all you want, but until you turn that focus completely inward, none of it matters. Your problems follow you. Wherever you go, there you are.

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