My dad once told me “geography is a state of mind.” At the time, I considered it to be a sagacious piece of advice. In retrospect, I think it’s a load of crap.
Not to discredit my dad because there is a small kernel of truth in what he said: a person’s attitude toward their geographic location can influence their levels of happiness. If you have a bad attitude about where you live, this is more likely to lead to depression and unhappiness. This is why a lot of American expats experience culture shock and return stateside miserable. However, there are others who are determined to make something out of their time overseas, often staying much longer than originally planned. This, I believe, is what my dad was talking about.
On the other hand, if you don’t think geography plays a critical role to a person’s happiness, well, excuse me for finding such sentiments to be full of naivete.
I was recently thinking about this while reading Thoreau’s Walden. Chapter 2 of the book is titled “Where I Lived and What I Lived For.” In it, Thoreau encapsulates the point I’m trying to make: think long and hard about where you will live, but make the most of it, regardless of where you are. Basically, Thoreau argues even if you’re in a bad situation, life is too precious not to do everything in your power to enjoy it, as best as you can. Still, he cites Roman philosopher Cato, who once wrote:
“When you think of getting a farm turn it thus in your mind, not to buy greedily; nor spare your pains to look at it, and do not think it enough to go round it once. The oftener you go there the more it will please you, if it is good.”
Of course, most are familiar with the legend of Walden Pond and how Thoreau was an advocate of being in close contact with nature. So, obviously, geography was important to Thoreau and he finds he is at his happiest at Walden Pond, as opposed to previous living arrangements. He enjoys the solitude of the place. This is key: an individual’s happiness with a place has a lot to do with their personality and temperament.
Some people are happiest in a rural location where they can be left alone. Others need the stimulation of the city. Still others prefer the bourgeoisie comforts of the suburbs.
Also, for some it is critical to be close to family, while others would rather have little to do with their family. Still others love their family but are content with occasional visits on the holidays.
Whatever the case, I leave you with these words from Thoreau:
“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.”