To move or not to move (to the countryside)

One of Aesop’s famous fables – a story from a collection dated back to more than two and a half millennia ago – is called “The Tale of the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.”

In the story, two mice take turns visiting each other’s homes. As the title suggests, one of the mice lives in the countryside, and the other mouse lives in the city. Perhaps unsurprisingly, each mouse thinks that their own particular habitat is the best, and each has a pretty hard time adapting to the other mouse's environment.

People naturally become accustomed to certain environments, and take a lot of pleasure in them. These days, with more and more people than ever before living in cities, it probably wouldn’t be too hard to find a sizeable collection of individuals who’d argue fiercely that city life is naturally worlds better than countryside life.

But, research in recent times has provided evidence that there may be more to the picture than that. Some findings suggest pretty clearly that living in a city is correlated with a greater sense of disconnection, unhappiness, and social isolation. At the same time, people who live in the countryside apparently enjoyed better average scores for health across the board, as well as life satisfaction.

If you’re a die hard city dweller, more power to you. But here are a few reasons why living in the countryside might just improve your quality of life.

Just some food for thought.

You’ll be able to engage in a more self-sufficient, and intentional style of living

Not very long ago at all, historically speaking, most people would be quite deeply involved in the everyday matters of putting food on the table, keeping the house maintained, and so on – first hand.

These days, more and more of us live what might be called “sheltered” lives, where all we need to know is that the supermarket always has food, turning on the tap always produces water, and a quick call to the repairman means that any faulty household appliance gets fixed in a hurry. In fact, with the advent of online shopping, many of us rarely ever have to leave our homes at all.

There are definitely some upsides to this situation – but it also means that we are all more prone to feeling disconnected from the world around us, and less confident and self-reliant when things do go wrong.

More than that, however, many people actually find that living with too much luxury, comfort, and automation means that they struggle to feel a greater sense of fulfilment in life overall.

Undoubtedly, some of the dissatisfaction and unease that this kind of hyper-convenient lifestyle can bring, has been a big motivating factor behind the rising interest in things such as homesteading and surviving.

Without having to go completely “off the grid,” and without having to give up all the luxuries of modern life, living in the countryside can nonetheless give you a lot of room to begin exploring a more self-sufficient and intentional style of living.

This doesn’t have to be something complicated, or grandiose. You could keep your high-speed Internet connection, but also install some water tanks on your property, create a plot for gardening, plant some vegetables, connect an irrigation line, and “get back to basics” in that way.

Even just chopping firewood, pulling up weeds, and wandering around the local area to find berries to pick, and herbs to forage, could go a long way towards making you feel like you were in charge of your life on a deeper level.

You will have a bit more solitude (in a good way)

People in cities often report feeling isolated – which is strange, when you think about it, considering that cities are so densely populated, and that it’s virtually impossible to avoid running into dozens, if not hundreds of other people on any given day.

Clearly, the loneliness that people feel in the city is not a matter of being physically isolated from other people. Instead, it’s something to do with being emotionally, socially, or “spiritually” isolated – unable to properly connect, and lost in an anonymous sea of people, too big to ever really come to terms with.

In contrast to this, living in the countryside can help you to find more solitude in a positive sense.

Unlike loneliness, this positive kind of “solitude” allows you to be really by yourself from time to time, not constantly surrounded by other people who you feel no connection to, but actually on your own. At first, this may seem worrying – maybe even frightening. But many of the greatest writers, artists, poets, and thinkers throughout history have argued the benefits of occasional periods of solitude.

In fact, plenty of influential psychologists – including Carl Jung – have argued that periods of solitude are essential for good mental and emotional health and well-being.

The way it should work is something like this: when you’re with other people, you’re socialising, you give them your full attention, and you have a good time. When you’re by your own, you are actually spending some time with yourself, with your own thoughts, and not just finding ways to distract yourself with film and music.

You may find that having a good balance between these two different dimensions of life helps you to keep perspective, feel your best, and reflect on some deep issues. By all means, this is likely to be a pretty significant upgrade to the common city dweller phenomenon of sitting in a room, surrounded by other people, while ignoring everyone and staring at your phone.

You’ll be more in touch with the natural tides and rhythms of life

Humans have existed in a certain relationship with the natural world, for as long as we’ve been around, and this is true for all peoples, in all corners of the world, in all environments.

Mythologies from around the world – and stories of all sorts, too – have a huge amount of reference and allusion to natural tides, rhythms, and phenomena. We all understand, on some fundamental level, the symbolic meanings of “Spring” and “Winter.”

Today, with more and more of us living in urban environments that are just about completely controlled by human ingenuity, technology, and planning, we are increasingly detached from these natural tides, seasons, and rhythms, that have shaped how we relate to ourselves and the world around us, for all of history.

There’s something a bit tragic about that – and it may well be the case that there’s something pretty unhealthy about it, too.

Many people find that in winter, they develop “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD), a form of depression that seems to come with the season itself, the lack of light, the changes in weather, and all the related phenomena.

Traditionally, human communities in areas with a strong seasonal cycle, have developed ways of making sense of the bleakness of winter, of dealing with it, and of taking meaning from it. For example – many of the biggest traditional celebrations in Europe, and the northern hemisphere more broadly, take place in the heart of winter, as a way of reminding people of the promise of spring, and the good things in life.

Living in the countryside connects you very strongly to the tides and rhythms of the seasons, and this can do a lot to help to put the trials and tribulations – as well as successes and victories – of everyday life into perspective. There’s something about seeing spring, summer, autumn, and winter, unfolding before you that is very powerful, and that can make life seem more in tune.

You’ll be closer to nature, and more able to benefit from visits to the great outdoors

It’s pretty much unanimously agreed on that people who spend more time in nature are happier, healthier, and fitter, than those who do not.

Research published in the journal Environment and Behaviour found that a sense of being connected to nature was a strong predictor of many happiness indicators, even compared to other forms of connection (for example, connections to friends.)

But that’s not a very new thought, or a very surprising finding. For centuries now writers ranging from John Muir to Henry David Thoreau, have argued the incredible benefits of getting “back to nature”, including improved happiness, and a better sense of priority in life.

The bottom line is, people are meant to be in nature – very close to nature, at least. If you live in a city, on the other hand, you are in just about the most “unnatural” environment that you could possibly be in. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a park nearby, but that’s a pretty dim reflection of the great outdoors.

Living in the countryside allows you to experience the many benefits of being close to nature, and can massively boost your sense of well-being, and purpose in life, as a consequence of that.

When forests, fields, and meadows are in your own back yard, there is little to keep you from reconnecting to the natural world and “washing your spirit clean” as John Muir suggested.