Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.
During one of my many transits across the great state of Kansas, I pulled off the interstate to fill up my gas tank and patronize a fine dining establishment that we don’t have access to in my hometown: Wendy’s. But as I turned on my blinker toward the exit, I noticed that the name of the town was literally “Plainsville.”
“Is there a more boring, depressing name for a town?” I found myself wondering. As I looked up and down the busy strip next to the Interstate, the fast food chains and gas stations ended quickly, taken over by flat plains filled with grain, as far as the eye could see.
While I don’t presume to judge the motivations of anyone who actually lives in Plainsville, I had to wonder, “why would anyone choose to live here?” Because where you live is absolutely a choice.
Having grown up in a small farming community in Wisconsin, I can imagine some of the reasons that people would give for remaining in such a place: “All my friends are here. I have a good job on the farm. It’s too expensive to live in the city, or in the mountains. My family is close by, and family is the most important thing to me.”
When people trot out the family argument for why they can’t possibly move, that’s supposed to be a show-stopper. An argument that you can’t possibly combat. An argument that seemingly everyone should agree with… until you consider that your family lives in Plainsville.
Contentment in Plainsville?
I’ve begun an ongoing project to attempt to find contentment in my life right here, right now, in the exciting and in the bland. So I have to wonder: Could I find contentment in Plainsville? Should I at least be able to consider such a thing?
My best pal Seneca seems to think so. He says, “the place one’s in, though, doesn’t make any contribution to peace of mind: it’s the spirit that makes everything agreeable to oneself.” He goes on to illustrate in his letter to Lucilious:
“I’ve seen for myself people sunk in gloom in cheerful and delightful country houses, and people in completely secluded surroundings who looked as if they were run off their feet. So there’s no reason why you should feel that you’re not as much at rest in your mind as you might be, just because you’re not here in Campania.”
In another letter, Seneca drives his point home clearly: “the good life is available everywhere.”
Now Seneca’s position is, of course, completely consistent with the Stoic philosophy of not letting the outside world drag you down or cause negative emotions, because you can’t control the outside world.
But on the flip side, you can control where you live. Especially in the increasingly-mobile and digital age of the early 2000s AD, you can literally live anywhere in the world if you put your mind to it.
So where do you want to live–do you want to live in Plainsville?
The role that place plays in our lives
I will be the first to admit that to many people, the place they live is not the most important thing about them. In the hypothetical argument above, their number one priority may indeed be their extended family. Bully for them.
But for some other people, I think location, place, the spot in the world that you pick to reside, plays a huge role in your quality of life. Speaking for myself personally, the place I choose to live is one of the most important choices that I have ever made—and I made that choice very carefully.
My place contributes dramatically to my own personal level of contentment. Can I ride singletrack from my back door? Can I glance away from my computer screen and see towering mountain peaks out my window? Do I have to deal with traffic and smog and noise, or do I have peace and quiet constantly available?
While I admire the Stoic belief that “the good life is available everywhere,” I have to wonder if contentment isn’t just about achieving a quiet, contented internal state despite the external circumstances that bombard you, but also learning who you are as a person, and then making conscious decisions that make it easier to achieve a contented state.
When I hop on my mountain bike and ride out of my garage door and onto singletrack, when I smell the sweet scent of the cool mountain air in the mornings, when I spot the first touch of snow on the tops of the mountains in the fall, all of those simple experiences catapult me into a state of contentment and well being.
Here, in the mountains, I find contentment radically easier to achieve than I ever could in Plainsville.