Did you know that Sharon, Mass., was named the best place to live in the United States by Money magazine? Palo Alto gets that honor on Liveability.com, while Business Week gives it to San Francisco.
I know this because, after twenty years of living the ex-pat life in Jerusalem, I'm leaving — along with my husband and two kids. My husband and I are writers, so in theory we could live anywhere.
It's exhilarating. A year from now, I could be learning how to make ahi poke in Honolulu, or exercising my hipster muscle in Portland. What's to stop us from skiing in Vale all winter long, or from really going crazy and becoming Texan?
Well, there's fear. Fear can stop us from becoming Texan. Fear can stop us from going lots of places.
Being able to move anywhere may be exhilarating, but it's also a bit frightening. With the world so wide open and the options so endless, it's daunting to point to a spot on the map and call it home. What if we move and then realize we chose the wrong place? If it was just me and my husband, we could pack up and try again. But we have school-age kids who'll be starting their lives anew. How many times can we ask them to do that?
We'd better make the right choice and I'm not sure how to go about it. That's why I know that a four-bedroom home in Dubuque, Iowa, costs just over $200,000, and that Salt Lake City has one of the lowest cancer rates in the country (although that probably has more to do with Mormon abstention from alcohol and smoking than anything else). And don't even get me started on the non-American options. My husband is Welsh, so most regions in the Euro Zone are fair game for us.
So where in the world should we go?
There are recurring factors that make regular appearances on all the "Best Places to Live" lists — health care, education, infrastructure and air quality are all quantified, as are tax rates and access to outdoor recreation. On one hand, these insights are helpful. But on the other hand, the last time I checked, I wasn't a statistic. Sure, Durham, N.C., was once named the "foodiest small town" by Bon Apetit. But are pasture-raised burgers and local kale enough to sustain me and my family? (Figuratively speaking, of course.)
After spending a few weeks in this online destination vortex, checking school districts and house prices, reading local culture blogs and contemplating crime statistics, it occurred to me that with this most personal of decisions, the last thing I should be doing is focusing on impersonal lists. What I needed to do was to make my own list of what's important to me, to my husband and to my kids.
We sat down and brainstormed together. We discovered that none of us wants to live rurally, but neither are we big-city types. We'd love to be close to nature — my husband misses hiking and I've longed dreamed of skiing more than once every two years. Some of us would like museums nearby (not me) and others want an airport within an hour's drive (that would be me).
We're also on a budget. Cities and towns with high costs of living, like Palo Alto and Brooklyn, are off the list. And as we have children, we'll need a good public school system.
There's also extended family to consider. If we're making a move, we realized we should think about living near family members. This wasn't so important before we had kids, but now we'd like them to grow up near grandparents and cousins. I'm from the suburbs of New York and as most of my family is still there, we've started to focus our search within a reasonable distance from where they live.
Even though we're starting to hone in on a place, this is still a pretty daunting undertaking. But I'm beginning to understand how to approach this decision, and it's the same way I hope to approach every day of my life (with varying degrees of success). I need to stop worrying, to open myself up, to stay positive and have a little faith that it's going to work out.
And in the same spirit, when the time comes and we land in the destination we chose, I need to surrender myself to that place and let it become my home. Because in the end, the thing that will play the biggest role in determining happiness for me and my family is not where we live our life, but how we live it.