Magnets attract you to a place and anchors keep you there. What are your magnets and anchors?
Research on place attachment suggests that I’m not alone in appreciating the value of an emotional connection to the place where I live. Studies show that place attachment contributes to happiness and life satisfaction. So, maybe it’s not the attributes of a place as much as your attachment to the place that’s important for an overall sense of wellbeing.
I was still unpacking boxes from our recent move to Elephant Butte, New Mexico, when I noted the headlines of a recent AARP Bulletin: “Great Places to Live.”
I wondered how our new home in a remote small town would compare to one of these great places. I did a quick read of the article and, not surprisingly, found that the 1,400 residents of Elephant Butte do not live in an officially sanctioned great place. Did we choose wisely? Would our new home be the right place for us, for me?
I’m a list person. I have a to-do list, a books-to-read list, a places-to-explore list. But my lists are personal to me. They reflect my needs, my priorities, my interests. The AARP list of great places to live reflect someone else’s thoughts and priorities. But reading the article did raise some questions in my mind about making Elephant Butte a great place for me to live. I want where I live to be more than a backdrop for my activities. While we did some research before buying our new home, there’s still a lot about the area and the community that I know very little about. I know there are hiking trails and hot springs, a lake and a large state park. But I want to be more than a consumer of what this community has to offer. I want to be a contributor. I’m thus in the process of looking for opportunities to be involved.
This reminds me of what it takes to successfully transplant a bush or tree. For the plant to survive in its new location, it will need to adapt to its surroundings. And for it to thrive, the plant needs to become a functioning part of the community in which it is planted. No living thing can survive entirely on its own.
I believe that my role in making Elephant Butte a great place for me to live includes becoming more familiar with both the ecological and social dimensions of this community. I’ve started studying maps of the area and talking to other residents about their favorite places around Elephant Butte. I now know where to go to see and hear the sandhill cranes as they migrate through the area. I’ve walked the Healing Waters Trail. I’ve attended some events at the Black Cat Book Store.
I’m beginning to find my personal magnets and anchors—elements attaching me to this new place where I live. Magnets are qualities that attract people to a place; anchors keep them rooted to it. Not surprisingly, I’ve started a list of each.
Magnets: wildlife along the river, brightness of the stars at night, the view of the lake from our deck.
Anchors: the Black Cat poetry group, the bench under the cottonwood tree, Turtleback Mountain, the peach trees in our front yard, the dirt road loop through our neighborhood.
I realize that the items on my lists may seem pale next to some of the features desired by other people. But place attachment, I believe, can’t be dictated by some one else’s priorities. We each need to find our own places of enchantment.
Whether you’re new to the place where you live or have lived in the same place for many years, you may wish to find your own magnets and anchors. You may wish to spend more time in places where you feel relaxed and places where you feel excited. You don’t have to make lists; just identifying such places can boost your appreciation of what makes the place where you live special to you. I think John Burroughs had it right when he said, “Do not despise your own place and hour. Every place is under the stars, every place is the center of the world.”
Read more from Ruth Wilson: "The Power of the Smile"