- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

For millions of Americans, home is where the job is. They might crave Southernsunshine, but dwell in the chillyNorthbecause that’s where they collect their paycheck. Similarly, lovers of rural tranquility find themselves stuck in the noisy city, and folks who hanker for neighborly small-town life complain of being trapped in anonymous suburbs.

But that’s not the way things have to be, said Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes Magazine and author of “Life 2.0; How People Across America Are Transforming Their Lives by Finding the Where of Their Happiness.”

Escaping to more nurturing, peaceful, “quality” environments has many perks, and more and more people are discovering them, he said.

“After the recession and 9/11, I began noticing just a lot of colleagues at Forbes and in the Bay Area where I live were just sort of disappearing,” Mr. Karlgaard said. “I asked a colleague what was going on, and she said people are leaving the area because it’s so expensive here that if they’ve had a hiccup in their job, they can’t afford to live here.

“I asked where they were going, and she surprised me by saying ‘smaller communities,’ such as Portland, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; Tucson, Arizona; and places like that.”

When making life decisions, Mr. Karlgaard said, people pose the common questions of “who, what, when and how,” but often forget to ask “where?”

“I think that it just doesn’t occur to people,” he said.

But maybe it should. With the technological advances of the past 15 years, many economists and career analysts say, workers are now free to move wherever they like and do whatever they want for a living. An entrepreneurial approach to employment is increasingly becoming the norm, explains “Free Agent Nation” author Dan Pink.

“People who work for themselves are more satisfied with themselves and their careers than people who don’t,” he said. “The truth is, what we’re learning a lot in the field of psychology and what makes people happy and satisfied are fairly fundamental things.”

By working for himself, said Mr. Pink, a person can be happy, live where he wants, all the while staying connected with the world through technology.

“Technology has a huge amount to do with it. I am from D.C., but I happen to be on the West Coast right now. I have a phone number that will forward to wherever I am, I have my laptop and broadband connection and cell phone, so it doesn’t really matter where I am, if I can do my work adequately, then I can go anywhere.”

It’s all a matter of taking all the possibilities into consideration, say both authors.

In researching his book, Mr. Karlgaard flew his twin-engine plane around the United States, visiting small towns and asking people why and how they arrived where they did.

The answers were a surprising mix of political, economic and lifestyle preferences.

“I met quite a few people where one of the things that propelled them to move was to leave the blue-state snobbiness and secularism as they saw it,” Mr. Karlgaard said. “It goes both ways. For hard-core blue-staters, there’s still the university towns in the heartland that are wonderful places that are reasonably cheap and have all the tolerance blue-staters like.”

The seeming trend of movement from big to small cities and obscure locations can also be attributed to what Mr. Karlgaard calls “spiritual revival.”

“A lot of people are re-evaluating the importance of work and career in their lives. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, when the country was having this economic revival, there was a lot of focus on career,” he said. “If you look in the culture, you do see that there is some sort of spiritual revival happening.”

The success of Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ,” and evangelical author Rick Warren’s book “The Purpose Driven Life,” Mr. Karlgaard said, “are touchstones … that suggest we are going through a reassessment of what we want.”

Generational trends have influenced these shifts.

“The baby boomers are a big part of it,” said Mr. Pink. “Many of them have more of their life behind them than ahead of them, but that’s why you have this widespread pursuit of meaning and purpose. They ask if they are going to do something that really matters and leave some sort of legacy. They are thinking in those terms and recognizing their mortality.”

In the end, said Mr. Karlgaard, it is important to know that happiness cannot be achieved through work alone, but may come from simply surrounding yourself with the things that are important, even if that means moving to a smaller town.

“Happiness is hard to get when you pursue it directly; it’s one of these ironies of life. If you live a life where your career is good, religious spiritual life is good and the relationship with the people around you is good, happiness will happen to you,” he said.

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