Issue #24 · Stacking the Happiness Odds in Your Favor

Thoughts on the domino effect that comes from where we choose to live.

March 6, 2024: Last Friday morning, I found myself aimlessly wandering through the aisles of Mercado Zicatela, a massive community market packed with fruit stands, food stalls, spice shops, seafood counters, and even a mini mezcalería. I was loosely on the hunt for coffee, but window shopping at the souvenir stands full of black Oaxacan pottery and colorful alebrijes was sidetracking me from my morning fix.

With its metal exterior and highway-side location, the market is rather unassuming — until you wander out to the back pavilion which overlooks Playa Zicatela, an enormous beach also known as the Mexican Pipeline for its waves that sometimes reach 20+ feet during peak surf season. Mercado Zicatela is undoubtedly one of Puerto Escondido’s most special gems, a place that both locals and visitors come to eat, shop and socialize. I eventually found my coffee (and some fresh ceviche to boot) and sat for a while enjoying the view, enjoying the warm breeze and enjoying yet another peaceful morning in my happy place.

It’s no secret that I love this little surf town. I write about it often, as I’ve spent a large chunk of the past four years here. I continuously choose to make repeat visits here rather than travel to new places — some of my friends have given up trying to extract me from this tropical paradise, while other friends have also been sucked into Puerto’s laid-back-living blackhole. It’s not hard to put your finger on what makes this place so special: the spectacular sunsets, the tasty fish tacos, the sporty lifestyle, the tight-knit community, and the fact that bathing suits pass as evening wear are all part of my personal equation.

I feel so fortunate to have found this home away from home, a place that only a series of pandemic-induced life pivots could have led me to. Though semi-accidental in my case, I now realize how important it is to actively find a place that brings out the best version of yourself. Likely you’ve heard the concept that “we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with" — but after being constantly on the move for a few years, I'm now absolutely convinced that where we choose to call home has an even bigger impact on our behavior and sense of self.

Now, humans operating as a byproduct of their environment is pretty obvious — but what’s surprising is that many people don’t really seem to do anything about it, more often than not, passively accepting the random hand they’ve been dealt that is the city listed on their birth certificate. For most people, major life changes are a hard "NO" before the idea ever leaves the daydreaming gate.

Let’s play a quick game. On a scale of 1 [no chance] to 10 [it’s already in the works], rank the likelihood that in the next two years you would do each of the following:

  • Relocate to a different part of the country with a more appealing climate

  • Downsize from your large house to a smaller, more manageable space

  • Intentionally choose to live on the same block as family or close friends

  • Sell your personal vehicle and move to a transit-connected and/or walkable environment

  • Pivot out of a unfulfilling career that’s also keeping you handcuffed to a specific location

  • Move somewhere that provides easier access to your hobbies or preferred pace of life

Okay, okay, I can feel the eye rolls already. “I can’t just uproot my entire life and move halfway across the world like you, Emily. I have responsibilities!” And there’s also the very valid notion of where ever you go, there you are — making any of the above changes won’t allow you to miraculously escape your long-running personal problems. But since our surroundings have such an outsized impact on everything else — a domino effect that influences our everyday routine, habits, personality, decision-making and day-to-day life experience — why not tinker with the inputs and find a formula that stacks the happiness odds in your favor?

Here’s mine: Now that I live around the corner from a fresh fruit and veggie stand, I eat (and feel) much healthier than I used to. Now that I live in a place where I don’t need a car, my traffic-induced stress levels have plummeted. Now that I chase warm weather year-round, I avoid the seasonal depression that used to plague me each winter. Now that I don’t own much, my spare cash is spent on experiences that bring me joy rather than unfulfilling materialistic shit. I’m in the process of actively building a life around the things I value most, and feeling content as ever.

Yes, I’ve taken this advice to the extreme by choosing to live in a completely different country, with a different language — a place that barely has paved roads and where hot showers are a luxury. There’s probably a way to implement this so-called happiness odds stacking on a smaller scale. But truth be told, just a few years ago I was in the same camp as most, believing that radical life changes were beyond my control, a far-fetched pipe dream reserved for only the utmost adventurous few. So while it might take a dose of courage, a bit of ruthless sacrifice and some confronting of societal norms, if it means that we’re happier in the end and find ourselves wondering “why didn’t I do this sooner?” — well, I think that’s something worth pursuing.

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Here’s a list of every issue if you want to keep reading!

  • Issue #23: March Momentum [Feb 2024]

  • Issue #22: Everything in Limbo [Dec 2023]

  • Issue #21: No Hay Luz [Dec 2023]

  • Issue #20: Unclogging the Pipes [Dec 2023]

  • Issue #19: A Love Letter to Charm City [Oct 2023]

  • Issue #18: Plot Twist: I’m Going to Hong Kong [Sep 2023]

  • Issue #17: To All of the Places I Will Never Visit [Sep 2023]

  • Issue #16: Embracing the Blank Canvas [Sep 2023]

  • Issue #15: In Pursuit of an Endless Summer [Aug 2023]

  • Issue #14: Follow Me to Weird Places [Jul 2023]

  • Issue #13: Self-Inflicted Social Overload [Jul 2023]

  • Issue #12: Schlepping It 🎒 [Jun 2023]

  • Issue #11: Finding My “Next Thing” [Jun 2023]

  • Issue #10: Book the Damn Flight and Just Go [May 2023]

  • Issue #9: Choosing Your Own Life Adventure [May 2023]

  • Issue #8: Eat, Sleep, Write, Repeat [May 2023]

  • Issue #7: My First Month of Indie Making: An Honest Review [Feb 2023]

  • Issue #6: Ten Years of Making Money on the Internet [Jan 2023]

  • Issue #5: The Modern-Day Mission Trip [Dec 2022]

  • Issue #4: Ready, FIRE!, Aim [Nov 2022]

  • Issue #3: A New City Every Month: An Experiment in Change [Aug 2022]

  • Issue #2: Defining My North Star as a Nomad [Dec 2021]

  • Issue #1: One Year on the Road: Looking Back [Oct 2021]