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Small Towns: Tonic to 21st Century Craziness

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

"Instead of wondering where your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don't need to escape from." - Seth Godin

I live in a small community of just over 1,000 people so I probably take the peace and quiet we have for granted. Then I came across this quote by Seth Godin in a recent newspaper article and it gave me "pause to ponder" as another saying goes.

Traffic. Crime. A high cost of living. In too-often fast-paced 21st century life, solitude is largely a pipedream. Many are figuring out that bigger isn't necessarily better. According to U.S. Census figures, an average of roughly 30,000 residents between the ages of 25 and 39 are leaving large cities each year. COVID-19 has been accelerating this existing trend.

I grew up in a Wisconsin city of 12,000 and have lived in communities this size, or smaller, most of my life. In my youth, that often meant a degree of boredom. Peace and quiet when you're at an age where many of us crave action and activity isn't necessarily a good mix. I used to lament some of my friends who had moved to large cities like Milwaukee and all the "things to do" that living in areas like that entail. What I didn't see was what I had in abundance: no real worry about crime or traffic, and fewer "hassles" in general. Plus a lower cost of living, all the things they wished THEY had!

Author and entrepreneur Jay Harrington highlights a number of reasons why life in a small town can make you happier. With my experiences thrown in as examples, here are some of them:

Fewer expenses. The cost of living in many cities in Wisconsin and other states often pales in comparison to that of big cities. It's true there isn't as much to do in terms of entertainment, dining out, and other activities and events, but if you're fortunate enough to live roughly a hour or so away from larger towns like we do, living where we do presents the best of both worlds: Weekend getaways are there when we need them, the rest of the time we don't have to deal with all the pitfalls associated with living in a big community.

More time. The older you become, the more you realize that time is life's most valuable resource. Most people here work to live, rather than live to work. It's not unusual to see businesses here closed for 30 minutes for lunch. People in a small town know how to slow down and enjoy life. It's just not the fast-paced, stressed environment that I have experienced in my travels. It was among the many reasons we moved here 25 years ago. Even when I worked at the large, 400+ employee, fast-paced publishing business in town, I could walk home on my lunch break and instantly be transformed into the slower pace of this wonderfully friendly small town. I can't imagine working in publishing in Milwaukee and having to go from hectic to still more hectic! Throw in the 24/7 smartphones, pandemic, and political and other turmoil, and it's no wonder so many people are anxious and stressed out!

More connection. It's ironic that larger cities are often lonelier places, whereas the intimacy of a small town fosters connection. When my friends come here for our annual BIG car show in July, they are often amazed how many people I run into when we're dining or otherwise "out and about." I suppose I take that for granted. I like knowing who my neighbors are - well at least a fair number of them. I really enjoy walking into a restaurant or tavern and saying hi to "Joe" or "Penny." I can't imagine living somewhere where no welcoming face would be there to greet me no matter which direction I looked. Who cares if a LOT of people live where you do if you don't know any of them? Research indicates that having a small number of meaningful relationships is among the highest predictors of happiness.

More nature. According to Harrington, researchers in Finland found that spending just 15 minutes a day in nature increases well-being. But in a big city, finding solitude in nature can be a downright chore. Here in a small town, it's often right outside the door. It's not unusual to spot a deer or even turkey on the edge of town or on a golf course. And communing with nature is as simple as hopping on my bike and pedaling a mile out of town.

While I was not so nuts about small town life when I was young, as I've gotten older that "boredom" I used to experience has often been replaced by "contentment." And when we do crave what a big city has to offer, we can jump in our car and drive there for the day.

Maybe the best part is that, with remote work, the work can now come TO US. We no longer have to commute, or move TO the work! Simplifying our crazy lifestyles has become a viable option for many. In a nutty world that seems to be getting nuttier by the year, it may even be the solution to sanity!

Trading the rat race for a slower pace with more nature and kinder people is an ever-growing exodus. Living where we do, I can see why.

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