Did you move around a lot as a child or did you mostly stay put? Now that you are an adult, do you think your childhood experiences of living in one place or several places still matter? Do those experiences have anything to do with how happy you are or how satisfied you are with your current life? Could they have anything to do with how long you live?
There is a growing field of research on the psychology of residential mobility. In one particularly noteworthy study, more than 7,000 U.S. adults between the ages of 20 and 75 were recruited to participate in the research. They were contacted again, if possible, 10 years later.
The participants were asked about their happiness and their satisfaction with their lives, and about the quality of their relationships with their friends, family, and neighbors. They completed a number of personality scales.
They were also asked this key question: “How many times during your childhood did you move to a totally new neighborhood or town?”
When the researchers first averaged across all of their participants, it appeared that moving a lot during childhood was linked to feeling worse about your life in adulthood. Then they looked more closely, taking personality into account. For extraverts, there was only a slight hint that moving around during childhood might be linked to feeling less happy and satisfied with your life in adulthood.
For introverts, though, the data were far clearer. The introverts who moved around a lot when they were kids felt less happy and less satisfied with their life as adults than did the introverts who had not moved often.
The introverts’ reports about their interpersonal relationships offered some insight into why moving was more unsettling for them than it was for extraverts. It was more difficult for the introverts who moved frequently to have high quality relationships, or to maintain close relationships over the long term. Those relationship frustrations seemed to undermine their happiness and their satisfaction with their lives.
I mentioned earlier that the researchers contacted the participants again 10 years later “if possible.” One reason the subsequent contact was sometimes not possible is that some of the participants had died during that time. Of those who had moved frequently during childhood, more of the introverts than the extraverts had died. A result that dramatic should be replicated before we make too much of it. In the meantime, though, it is suggestive.
Oishi, S., & Schimmack, U. (2010). Residential mobility, well-being, and mortality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 980-994.
Moving photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 9 Dec 2012