How Housing Can Make You Or Break You

Housing, where one lives, and why they live there has changed vastly over the years. From caves and mud huts to villas and chateaus people have no doubt come a long way in the design and style of homes. Perhaps it is no surprise that for most people spending on their rent/mortgage is their single biggest expense. But what I’d like to inspect a little bit closer is how the type of home you live in, where it is located, and who you live with might make you or break you. In my previous post Changing Life Circumstances – The Overlooked Happiness Factor I touched on how a person can influence their life circumstances to increase their happiness. In this article I want to focus on how your choices about housing can heavily influence your circumstances.


There is some research that suggests people choose a place to live primarily based on the following factors:

  1. Cost of housing
  2. Proximity to family and friends
  3. Size and type of house
  4. Proximity to work

The order and significance of these factors of course vary by age and other factors like wheater or not you have kids. However, the really interesting question is not why do people choose where to live, but how should they choose where to live to optimize happiness. That is to ask, how can a person make a decision about where to live in which they derive the most happiness at the least amount of cost?

Let’s tackle the issue of location first. After all everyone knows that when it comes to real estate it is location, location, location. Arguably the best place to chose to live is a place with the shortest distance to those things which you need to survive and generate happiness. Generally speaking this means finding a place that reduces your commute as much as possible to places such as work, the grocery store, a local park, and public library. The ideal is to be within walking or biking distance of all of these locations, but the priority goes to those places you must travel to the most frequently. For most people that means living close to work and the grocery store. In my post My Surprisingly Simple Superpower  I describe the health and happiness benefits of riding a bike to and from work. As you might expect there are health benefits to riding your bike to these other locations too, and walking is also a very attractive option for the health conscious. If you are among those who are lucky, or not depending on your relationships, you can also find a place that is close to your friends and family. Truly the ideal is to be within walking distance of all those people and places which are important to you.

I have no doubt that this has brought up the question of cost. “Phillnance how could I possibly afford a house that close to my job, a park, a grocery store, and public library?” My question to you is how can you continue to spend such a large percentage on your income between your rent/mortgage and your commute? But I digress, there are a variety of answers to this question that can make your money stretch much further than you might imagine. It is no secret that demand for housing increases in areas with good jobs, parks, and other public amenities. A person has two options to effectively combat this, either get a much smaller place or get roommates. Either approach will result in lower bills on an individual basis and provide more free time by reducing your commute and the time it takes to clean a smaller place (or splitting the responsibilities of cleaning with your roommate). Also, by not having to drive everywhere, or at least not as far, you will be reducing your environmental impact at the same time. To really put things in perspective, it wasn’t too long ago that people lived in 400 square foot homes or less with dirt floors (think Dances with Wolves) or in tenement buildings (think Benjamin Button) with many families under a single roof. Our living standards have vastly improved in the past century and to take that for granted would certainly be a shame. But there is real power in the realization that people that lived in those dwellings were no less happy than you or I are today. Between my 18th birthday and 24th birthday I lived almost exclusively in places 900 square foot or smaller – thanks Army. My point is you can do it and still live a happy life.

Still some people will want the larger place with the nicer features, and that is OK. For those individuals I highly recommend getting yourself a roommate, if not several. My first few years out of the Army I lived with my cousin which was an incredible time. Going back to my previous point about living near friends and family, it is helpful if they are just in the other room. Some people take this roommate concept to another level and actually make their house a profit generating venture. For example, I know one guy who rents a five bedroom place and rents out/subleases the other four bedrooms and is making a killing. This mindset of turning your house into a money making venture is called “House Hacking”. In my time I just called it beer money, but that’s a story for another time.

Overall, I think you will find that choosing a smaller place, a location closer to the important things in your life, and the addition of roommates can go a very long way to help you optimize for happiness. These choices will free up your precious time, reduce your environmental impact, and save you money. Moving also serves as a wonderful opportunity to reset your habits. See my post Resolute Resolutions to learn more about creating new habits or changing the ones you have.

So, I leave you with this question. Are you being strategic about where you live in order to optimize for happiness, or are you just getting by?

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. peterhorsfieldcfp says:

    The important take out from this exercise is to ask ourselves “Is there a better way?

    And if so what are the activities we can do right now that will start to improve our life in a positive way?”

    For myself this required what others may call a radical shift .

    I expanded my business and relocated from Sydney to Cairns the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rain forest.

    Doing so has saved me $50,000 less per year in my “job”, as a result my income increased and I have more time to exercise, entertain, grow and help others. The very things that are important to me and my happiness.

  2. Phillip says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Peter! We should all be asking ourselves that question, “Is there a better way?” Kudos for having the courage to follow your ideas and dreams which led you on this new adventure. Thanks for sharing and I wish you continued happiness!

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