This is part of an ongoing series on happiness. I’m going to continue sharing everyday moments, experiences, and activities where I feel most happy. Since I believe the pursuit of happiness is something that binds humanity, and since one of the major reasons to attain financial freedom in the first place is to improve one’s happiness, I find it important to share aspects of my life where I feel like the pursuit of happiness is most successful. I hope to show through these regular insights that not only does it not take much (or any) money to improve one’s happiness, but also that financial freedom provides additional opportunities (via more time) to boost happiness.
The tale of two childhoods.
I spent the first 11 years of my childhood in a rough neighborhood on the east side of Detroit. (Interesting fact: I grew up about five miles away from where Eminem did.)
I was then adopted, and spent the remainder of my youth in a village far west of Detroit – a village with a population of about 500 people.
So I’ve experienced both sides of the coin. That kind of juxtaposition is tough to beat. And I now live in a small-ish city, here in Sarasota. Having had a chance to dip my toes in many different pools, I know which one feels most comfortable to me.
While I hold no love for Detroit specifically, I strongly prefer urbanity in general.
There’s just something about the dynamic energy of a city that’s difficult to put into words.
It’s electric. It’s exciting. It’s exhilarating.
The impetus for this article is a recent trip to Chicago, where Claudia and I recently spent a weekend to celebrate seven years together. Although it was always on my mind to pay homage to urbanity and express how it makes me feel, this recent trip really motivated me to pen this.
Chicago was intense… and incredible.
We were up there for a variety of reasons (besides our anniversary). She has a very good friend she hasn’t seen in years who owns a high-end restaurant in the city. I have a sister I haven’t seen in a couple years that lives a few hours away. And Claudia’s never been there before but wanted to see the city.
Moreover, I had a deep fascination with Chicago as a child. Growing up poor in Detroit, I always saw Chicago as this beacon of hope and success in the Midwest. It was like what Detroit could have been in some alternate universe. I always imagined going there as a successful adult.
Well, here I am.
It didn’t disappoint.
We stayed in the West Loop, which allowed easy access to the core of the city by public transportation. Since I love public transportation, this was great.
We used the Blue Line train to get to and from the airport. And we used buses and our own feet to get around most of the rest of the time. (We walked 10 miles on the Saturday we were there, for instance.)
How fantastic it is to not have to rely on a car to get everywhere. It’s just one less thing to need in life. One less thing to have to rely on. The less you rely on, the more free you are.
I’ve been using public transportation for years here in Sarasota. But it’s a small city, and so its public transportation can’t compare to that of Chicago’s. It’s apples and oranges. Nonetheless, I still get around okay.
Although some people might find urban living and frugality as opposing lifestyles, I disagree. I find urbanity to be perfectly in harmony with and complementary to the concept of living below your means and achieving financial freedom early in life.
First, just walking around and taking in the city’s sights is completely free, not to mention beneficial to one’s health. I’m not sure you can really place a price tag on vibrancy, yet it costs nothing (assuming you’re already in a city).
We saw Millennium Park. Grant Park. The lakefront. The Chicago River. Street scenes. Amazing architecture everywhere. The hustle and bustle of people moving to and fro. Horns honking. People talking. Life was in the air.
And that’s just Chicago. Most major US cities have their respective urban offerings.
To me, being surrounded by beautiful architecture is like walking around a museum. Except it’s a fantastic museum… and it’s completely free.
Willis Tower. Tribune Tower. John Hancock Center. Aon Center. Aqua. You get the picture for Chicago. And I could paint a picture like this for many other larger cities across the country.
Knowing what humanity is capable of inspires me. I stand there in awe.
And the parks. Oh, the parks. They’re free? You’re kidding me? I can enjoy world-class parks and art for free? I don’t have to pay? Experiencing something like Cloud Gate costs me nothing? I almost feel guilty.
Meanwhile, the sharing/gig economy is most noticeable in a large urban environment. This changes one’s cost structure quite a bit from just the assumed sticker price.
Public transportation. Roommate availability. Car sharing. So on and so forth.
And this isn’t even to mention the additional opportunities for income. It’s not just that high-quality and high-paying jobs tend to be centered in and around cities, but you’re also more free to participate in the sharing/gig economy (like, say, becoming an Uber driver).
But I’d prefer urban density and vibrancy to suburbia or rural living even if it ended up costing more. It’s a lifestyle call. It’s about personal happiness. Those who think life is simply about maximizing dollars are really missing out, in my view. The money is, after all, simply a means to an end. And so you really couldn’t pay me enough to live in a rural environment, or suburbia.
The feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself is wonderful. It costs nothing but, for me, provides so much value.
I also appreciate all those that came before me. The diverse mix of old and new that one can find in a city is wonderful. It reminds me that so many great people have existed before me, making their indelible mark on the world. And I can see that there are so many people around me that enjoy continuing that legacy of human triumph.
Oh, and as a night owl, I also like knowing I can do anything or get anything at pretty much any time of day or night.
A late-night stroll, with the moon and city lights illuminating your walk? A great burger at midnight? Or maybe I want to jog to the 24-hour gym to get in a workout well after the sun has retreated for the day. Perhaps I don’t do any of this. Just knowing I can is neat, though.
In addition, I’m an introvert. As an INTJ personality, I can sometimes be guilty of spending too much time in my own head, fascinated (and overwhelmed) by ideas and concepts.
But urbanity forces me out of my comfort zone. It challenges me. And I like that.
Lastly, I think urban living is just plain more sustainable in regards to the future of humanity. I think we need to build up rather than out over the long haul.
Now, there’s no one-size-fits-all lifestyle or location. Life would be boring if it were like that. And I’m in no way attempting to convince anyone of anything with this article. I’m only sharing a personal aspect of my life in terms of what makes me happy and how financial freedom impacts that.
Some people like small towns. Others prefer suburbs. I enjoy dense cities with beautiful architecture, plentiful parks, robust public transportation, delicious food, diversified culture, and amenities. To each their own. But financial freedom can allow you the flexibility to live where you want, with less (or no) regard for money.
And financial freedom is fantastic in that it allows you to actually enjoy your surroundings.
Too often, too many people are just rushing from place to place in their lives.
Get in the car. Drive to work. Go to the grocery store. Hit the gym. Go home.
And when you’re living like that, a large urban area can be a bummer. You’re competing against a lot of other people doing the same exact things, generally around the same exact times. So you’re running into traffic and crowds.
But when you’re able to slow down and actually enjoy the culture and amenities, urbanity takes on a whole new meaning.
That brings me to my next point.
It’s an interesting thing. It’s only been somewhat recently that I’ve developed a real passion for urbanity. I’ve spent countless hours researching cities, urban planning, walkability, public transportation, etc.
Would I have ever developed this passion if I were still so busy working for most of my waking hours? My guess is no. I actually wouldn’t even be the person I am today had I never started down the path to financial freedom. It’s crazy to ponder that: I wouldn’t be me.
And that’s one more great thing about financial freedom. You’re allowed the time to really craft yourself and your lifestyle, to a certain degree. You learn more about yourself. You develop new interests, passions, and hobbies. You become a better and more well-rounded version of yourself. You’re able to feel the joy of striving toward your potential, which is perhaps the ultimate barometer of happiness in life.
For me, a more urban environment makes me happy. And with all of the free sights and sounds, it doesn’t cost that much to maximize the experience. Financial freedom gives me the time and energy to really immerse myself in all of that, while simultaneously minimizing many of the drawbacks.
How about you? Does urbanity make you happy? Why or why not?
Thanks for reading.