In any other August, the town where I live would be absolutely killing it right now with the mega-summer festival it’s hosted for the past 40 years. Think multiple music stages, an Etsy’s worth of craft booths, and me double-fisting a gyro and an ice cream cone while perusing the homemade Harry Potter wands.
But of course, the festival is canceled, like basically everything else. Thanks, coronavirus. I guess I’ll go on another Hulu bender instead.
No matter how you felt about the city where you live before corona times, chances are good that after nearly six months of pandemic, you’re getting a little sick of it. Vacations are mostly off, as are all the gatherings and events that make us happy in our cities in the first place. Maybe you’re thinking, “Things would be better if I lived somewhere else.”
Developing Place Attachment
Even before COVID, you may have felt that way. I spent my 20s and 30s moving in and out of five states in 13 years, hoping to stumble on my Happy Place, a town of sunshine and parades and cheap real estate and good jobs. I'd magically fit in there! I'd never want to leave! But all the town-hopping also left me feeling unmoored. At age 36, I moved to Blacksburg, Virginia, for my husband’s work—yet another new town that didn't feel like home. I wasn't sure if it ever would.
As it turns out, that feeling of being at home in a place—what social scientists and psychologists call place attachment—is a fundamental human need that influences everything from how socially connected we are to how much self-esteem we have, how much we volunteer to how satisfied we are with our lives in general. Putting down roots makes kids more resilient and adults feel safer. It even influences how long we live.
Place attachment influences everything from how socially connected we are to how long we live.
But it doesn’t always happen naturally. A lot of us are prone to wanderlust, fantasizing so much about other places that we don’t pay enough attention to the place we are. It’s a distracted boyfriend meme of a life, as we ignore where we live to admire the cute place we wish we were: the Florida beaches, maybe, or the Colorado mountains, or some townhouse in London.
It’s not a bad thing to move to a new city. But even if you’re not 100% settled where you live, you can benefit from learning to appreciate it, even in corona times. Maybe especially in corona times.
See the Good in Your Community
When lockdown hit back in March, I started seeing beautiful examples of how communities were connecting and checking on each other in a challenging time. Someone tied balloons to all the mailboxes on my friend Jen's street. My friend Adrienne shared this video of how her whole neighborhood celebrated a 90-year-old's birthday. And I read this lovely story from my favorite Instagram Tiny Kindnesses:
(Insert all the sobbing emojis.)
It's the Baader-Meinhof effect, where once you become aware of such instances of goodness in communities, you can’t stop seeing similar examples. And honestly, shifting your perspective, I’ve come to realize, is one of the keys to place attachment. Because place attachment, or loving where you live, is all about perspective. Think of your hometown. You know people who adore it. You for sure also know people who hate it. What’s the difference? The town is the same. It’s how you choose to see and experience the place.
Tips for Loving Where You Live More
After I learned about place attachment, I decided to see if I could get more attached to Blacksburg. First, I figured out which behaviors science had linked to place attachment. Then I did them, in little micro-action steps that I called “Love Where You Live” experiments. (It went so well I ended up writing a book about it!)
Putting down roots makes kids more resilient and adults feel safer.
The shocker? A lot of the “Love Where You Live” experiments are weirdly doable right now during a pandemic. You may be doing some of them already, things like:
Taking daily walks in your neighborhood.
Consciously supporting small businesses.
Checking on and chatting with neighbors.
Spending time outside in nature.
Donating to good causes locally.
Ordering takeout from local restaurants that you want to survive.
Tuning into Zoom town council or school board meetings.
Creating your own fun (like these Ministry of Silly Walks signs).
Cultivating gratitude for where you live now.
Let’s be honest. A lot about right now sucks. You’re probably going a little stir-crazy. But if you try out your own “Love Where You Live” experiments and start being intentional about appreciating your town, you’ll feel happier.
There's a golf course a block from my house, and though my golfing skills are strictly "putt-putt on vacation" level, every so often I wander up there to watch the sunset. People have spread out picnics or are gathered in circles to do yoga. Kids are running around and are chased by parents. It's a party.
And it’s strictly a COVID thing, because there wasn’t this kind of audience for the sunset before. But it makes sense that now we find ourselves unconsciously gravitating toward each other and toward this sign that quite literally the sun will keep on rising and setting. Beauty exists in the world, right where you live.