You’re not running away: Sometimes the grass really IS greener on the other side.

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I was living in a city on the west coast when I decided to take a year and move back to Philadelphia. It would be my third time living here.

I’d gotten frustrated with the west coast city. People at networking events looked at me oddly and made vague unflattering references to my wardrobe. A woman in the gym made snarky comments about my eyebrows. I dropped my ceramics class after the teacher told me I just wasn’t good at working with m hands. My main extracurricular activity involved trips to the dog park, which were colorful but not particularly satisfying.

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They said, “If you can’t be happy here….”

Before I left, a few people shared the old chestnut, “If you can’t be happy here, you won’t be happy anywhere.”

But one friend pointed out, “You’ve got east coast energy. You won’t drive people crazy by talking fast and being…well, direct.”

That friend turned out to be right. Originally I planned to stay in this city for just a year. Nine years later, I’m not going anywhere.

Moving to greener grass means discovering new parts of yourself.

Right after moving to Philly (as we locals call it), I got involved in comedy, joined a coworking space, and started making pottery in a friendly, supportive ceramics studio.

The staff and my fellow students — many of whom became friends — thought my work was “original.” The dog found new admirers in her daycare center.

And I continued those activities till the dog died and the quarantine started.

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Even moving to a new condo in the same city made a difference. After eight years in one place, I saw serious flaws in the management company and received bizarre threats when I asked about them. My new place isn’t heaven on earth: I’m currently waiting to replace an entire HVAC system. But with new neighbors, I’ve got new vibes and find myself approaching my business and my personal life in a more positive way.

New places bring new experiences.

A Wall Street Journal article quotes research by academics Daniel Kahneman and David Schkade. They asked university students in 2 US locations — midwest and California — where they think “someone like themselves would be happier.” Both picked California, mostly because of the weather.

The article quotes Schkdae: “ “But you aren’t thinking about the fact that you’ll still be spending a lot of time in the grocery store or doing chores. People emphasize differences that are easy to observe ahead of time and forget about the similarities.”

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Even grocery shopping feels different when you move.

But grocery shopping feels different in Seattle at the Metropolitan Market or Philadelphia at DiBrunos. It’s even more different than a Safeway or Albertson’s that’s the only game in town.

When I lived in a small town in New Mexico I could choose between a big-box grocery or a small farmer’s market, in season. Now I have several dozen shopping experiences to choose from, ranging from year-round farmers markets to Italian market boutiques to delis to six delivery services. I don’t have to drive, so I can get home by bus, Uber, a regular cab …or even hire someone to do all the shopping for me.

Household chores vary from place to place, too.

When I lived in a house, my chores were quite different. In a smaller town, or certain regions of the country (or world), you may have trouble hiring services to meet your specific needs. In the US, many large cities feature services on — affordable and accessible. I don’t know where I’d be without TaskRabbit.

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How do you know in advance whether your next move will bring greener grass or more weeds?

The WSJ article also quotes another academic, Daniel Gilbert, who encourages readers to talk to people actually living in the place where you’d like to move. Do they seem happy? That’s a sign.

If they’re happy, will you be happy? Maybe.

I’ve lived in neighborhoods where everyone complained non-stop but refused to take action. I’ve seen people get depressed in wintertime in Winnipeg, Canada, and rainy season in Seattle.

When you compare people, choose a sample you resemble.

Many people are happy to accept the hassles of car ownership in return for a house with a yard and some distance from urban life.

Many need a roomy home and would feel stifled in a small studio apartment, even one with a view.

Single people differ a great deal from married people; once you factor in children, the equation shifts even more.

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Your career grass may be greener on the other side, too.

I’ve seen people completely change their personalities when they changed jobs.

One young man I’ll call “Josh” kept having problems with bosses and colleagues. He had what could charitably be called a prickly personality. In one job, he actually was escorted out the door by two security guards after numerous battles over timesheets and paperwork.

Somehow he moved to a job in a world-class company. A wise manager knew how to use Josh’s talents and turn his quirks into advantages. Josh became a tech consultant, traveling worldwide to help customers solve problems. The customers didn’t mind if Josh was a little arrogant; he knew his stuff and they felt lucky to be dealing with him. And he not only behaved better around clients, but he also didn’t stick around look enough to irritate them.

It was clearly a win-win. Josh’s company desperately needed someone who was willing to travel extensively; Josh loved being pampered on the road. Like the protagonist in the movie Up In The Air, he earned perks and finally got the VIP treatment he’d been craving.

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Greener grass or desperate escape?

Often it’s hard to tell the difference. My criteria would be:

1) If you’ve been bouncing around unhappily, don’t assume you’re the problem.

My friend Mandy job-hopped and career-changed all over the place until she became an academic, where I met her as a colleague. She found a home in a university and stayed for ten years, till she got recruited away.

I know many people who never fit into corporate life. They became happy, sometimes wealthy, business owners.

2) Your job may not be a fit for your geographic home, or vice versa.

Academic jobs often require professors to move to small towns, sometimes in the middle of nowhere. I’ve met several talented people who chose lesser career paths because they wanted to live in Los Angeles, NewYork or San Francisco. Some people compromised and found happiness in smaller communities; some remained misfits who drove themselves and everyone else crazy.

3) You may have outgrown your previous choices.

Maybe you always enjoyed living in a big house, but now you want something smaller and closer to an urban center. Or you’re tired of apartments and close neighbors and feel ready to move to more space.

Be especially alert if you’ve landed somewhere by accident. You don’t always realize how much you love or hate an aspect of you’re life, till you’re there and you feel trapped.

Both jobs and cities come with unexpected perks and annoyances.

A job requires attending 7 AM meetings and you never realized you weren’t a morning person. You didn’t realize how much you’d miss your favorite coffee shop or pickup basketball games with old friends.

Even more, jobs and locations go together.

Nancy accepted a promotion to a division in the midwest, after living on the east coast most of her life. Every Monday, her new colleagues would get together to talk about their weekends.

Nancy had always been a private person and she was single; she didn’t really want to talk about her private life. She learned to come up with some boring, vanilla stories until she could get transferred again.

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Follow your own wisdom.

You announce, “I’m moving. I’ve been miserable here and it’s time.”

Your friend sneers, “The grass is always greener.”

Your answer: “Not always, but often. I’ll give it a fair shot.”

This article is based on my book: Making The Big Move: Relocation As A Life Transition.

Originally published at on July 22, 2020.

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