How you define happiness depends on where you live
The Chenmark team has had the opportunity to live in multiple places across the globe, the most recent of which is our homebase in Portland, Maine. Each stop along the way has presented an opportunity for growth, and molded our life perspectives accordingly. Furthermore, these experiences have been increasingly liberating, as they allow us to observe social and cultural interactions at arms-length, backed by the knowledge that “things” are not necessarily done a certain way everywhere.
For instance, on the East Coast people often ask “what do you do?” in introductory social settings. Conversely, in Western Canada, the topic of professional occupation rarely comes up. “Fun” in Vancouver may involve a hike followed by a beer; the same term in New York might involve a nice dinner and a night at the theater. None of these are right or wrong, they are simply different.
As such, we were interested to read of research conducted by Victoria Plaut, a social and cultural psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley Law School. Plaut’s research indicates that stereotypes are generally accurate (i.e., East is old and established; West is new and free) and that these norms are reflected throughout the fabric of a city. For instance, a Boston Hospital highlights its expertise and pedigree; a similar hospital in San Francisco touts its alternative medicine; Stanford refers to “forward-looking, forward-thinking people” looking for “the freedom to be themselves”; Harvard talks of a “tradition of excellence.”
None of this is particularly earth shattering. However, what is interesting is that Plaut finds “our ideas about who we are and how we should feel are shaped in quite dramatic ways by our local environment.” This means that the value one draws from their personality, financial position, education, and relationships can have a different impact in different places. This is because you obtain differing social, cultural, and professional feedback. Plaut notes that this doesn’t mean that one geography is “happier” than the other, it just means that residents of different locations tend to find happiness in different ways. For example:
“They found that Bostonians are at their happiest when relieved of daily hassles, especially those related to family and work relations — again emphasizing the community-based nature of the city, Plaut said. In San Francisco, happiness was more closely tied to the number of everyday uplifting experiences a person had. ‘The bottom line is that in Boston, people feel the social pressure more than in San Francisco,’ Plaut said.”
Understanding the implications of Plaut’s work is important to Chenmark on multiple levels. We work with business owners in multiple geographies, and those owners might relate to one aspect of our firm, or value one aspect of a deal, more than another based on their geography and associated social norms. Furthermore, once we own a business, different cultural norms may cause employees to value different things in their workplace. For us, being aware of the fact that contentment comes from different places – and can be highly variable based on location – allows us to be sensitive and adapt accordingly.