In my post on managing the post-vacation blues, I identified three strategies that you can employ to reduce or manage the emotional let down that comes along with returning from a trip or vacation. There was a fourth strategy, one that is arguably larger than the other three put together, but I realized that it was a larger topic, one that deserved to be discussed on its own. It involves one’s relationship with one’s living environment, and to start the discussion it makes sense to start out on a subway platform.
Coming home from Europe a few years ago was not a fun experience. There I was at the Howard Beach station by JFK at eight in the morning, sitting on my luggage and waiting for the A train. That area of Queens is not exactly the best eye candy that New York has to offer, and it was especially harsh against the backdrop of all the wonderful places I had just come from. The day before, I had been in Reykjavik, an other-worldly place of volcanic rock, glaciers, and hot springs. A few days before, I was wandering around the cerulean lakes of Plitvice. Here were run down tract houses, garbage in the street, and the noise of too much traffic squeezing into small side streets.
After about a half an hour (an eternity on an empty platform), the train showed up heading toward Brooklyn. This train was one of the older cars, with uncomfortable seats and windows riddled with “scratchiti”. A few days previous, I had been in Germany, riding on an intercity train at 200 mph in a sleek new train car, leaning against the window while reading a newspaper. Now I was plugging my ears with the screech of the wheels on the tracks on an hour long trip across a few miles of city.
I looked around at the faces in my subway car. They all seemed cold, hard, intentionally distracted, ensconced in their headphones and staring at nothing. They all had looks that suggested that they wanted nothing to do with me or with anyone. Moreover, they all had looks that suggested a deep despair, like they were going through the motions, enduring what was their lot, dealing with their life.
This was not, you may imagine, a very happy time for me.
It is possible to not like where you live. But while it’s fashionable to complain about the area where you live (too much traffic, nothing to do, too expensive, etc), it’s completely unfashionable to do something about it. And that’s a shame, because changing one’s surroundings can be the single most powerful way to change one’s outlook, one’s health, one’s spiritual path, everything.
Am I putting too much emphasis on place? I don’t think so. Assume the identical situation: you have to get up early and go to your job. In place #1, you walk outside to an area that’s ugly, unclean, and uncomfortable. In place #2, you walk outside to a place that smells good and clean, that fills your lungs with fresh air, and that is pretty to behold. Assuming that you had the same job and commute in both places, do you not think that your outlook in place #2 would be different and more positive than place #1? I think it would.
And if you don’t think it’s possible to walk outside and want to take a deep breath and sigh with pleasure when you’re on your way to work in the morning, well, I assure you that it’s possible; you just may not be living there now. Just like how there are people who are perfect for you, who make you grow and feel alive, there are places that are just as beneficial to you. And if you’re in a bad relationship with your surroundings, you owe it to yourself to start the process of ending it and moving on.
So it was at this point, on that subway car, that I took an important decision: I had to get out of New York.
The decision wasn’t quite articulated as clearly at the time, but it started me on a path. This moment of depression/clarity hadn’t showed up in a vacuum, after all. I had been living in New York for three or so years at this point, and had been on many travels during that time. And I found that the better the trip was, the worse it felt when I came home. While I initially thought that this was due to the very nature of vacations, I realized that I was more depressed by my home’s surroundings than I was missing, say, wandering around the late night cafes of New Orleans.
“Does it really need to be like this?” is a difficult-but-worthwhile question to ask when one if under distress, but it was there that I resoundingly answered “No.”
It took almost four years of work, but I eventually managed to leave New York. After much searching, I settled into a new home in Portland, a place I truly love, where the people are friendly and warm and open, where the scenery is epic and inviting (even when inclement), and where it never takes two hours to get back from the airport. And yes, cheese ball that I am, I actually do often walk out to the sidewalk in the morning, take a deep breath, and exhale with a huge grin. You owe it to yourself and everyone around you to find the place that makes you feel this way. It is possible.
But enough about me. Do you love where you live? If not, do you have plans to move to somewhere else?
New York City disclaimer: I will often disparage New York City, as it’s a place that made me unhappy for a very long time. That said, I do not want to suggest that this is anything other than my own personal experience. New York City is a world-class city, and I’m sure it’s the perfect place for many people to live. No disrespect intended.