He Who Moves to California

happiness psychology california

One of the biggest highlights of my last year was coming home to California. But, while an escape from the long winters back East was a welcome change, it was far from the only reason.

According to Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, while we might expect climate to have a greater impact on well-being, overall life satisfaction as reported by people in California is actually no different than that of people in the Midwest. But Kahneman also suggests that one who has recently moved to California will respond quite differently. The question will prompt a more recent comparison of two climates, and he or she will likely appreciate that aspect of life more when evaluating his or her subjective well-being.

While Kahneman argues that this is a prime example of “focusing illusion,” a distortion or bias of judgment when we give too much weight to particular factors like climate in determining life satisfaction, I would also argue that this very example may also illustrate the greater sense of mindfulness we display around times of change.

I, too, was no more or less happy than anyone else growing up in California. I had middle school, braces, SAT’s, and the same teenage angst and insecurities as another other kid across the country that took precedence over all the sunny December days and drives through rocky canyon roads I took for granted. But having left and come back, I find myself constantly taking a step back to reflect on how beautiful it all is. Intentionally trying to take advantage of everything it has to offer. Absolutely reveling in the time I get with my family. And yes, feeling grateful for every single sunny day.

Did I have to leave in order to appreciate it all? Is contrast and comparison a necessary prerequisite to gratitude? I still don’t know. But what I do know is that regardless of where you live, what car you drive, or even the family you were born into, happiest is often he who takes the time to notice and appreciate it. Who approaches life with the mindset of a traveler, or the fresh eyes of someone who just moved to California. Your relationships with most things are what you make of them.