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Our resident happy expert explains why you might want to start with an “explore list.”
Gretchen Rubin is the bestselling author of several books, such as Outer Order, Inner Calm and The Happiness Project, about how to be happier, healthier, and more productive. She also hosts the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast. For Oprah Daily, she weighs in on how we can all find a little bit of calm…even during a pandemic. This week, she answers a few reader questions.
A few weeks ago, we posed the following question to readers on Facebook and Instagram: “Are you in the midst of making a big change? If so, what is causing you the most anxiety…and why?”
From the hundreds of responses we received, two seismic shifts seemed to be exceedingly common: People considering a major career change (which I addressed in my last column), or a life-altering move. I heard from those leaving small, cramped apartments in major cities for more spacious houses in the suburbs, couples who were buying their first home or selling their beloved family home, and adventure-lovers who were moving across the country…or even across the world. (For example, one woman was returning to the U.S. after spending nearly a decade abroad.) Not to mention those who were relocating to be closer to—or farther from—friends and family.
In many ways, that’s to be expected: Studies have shown that natural disasters and other traumatic events can spur people to make big changes as a result of significant shifts in how we think and relate to the world—and the COVID-19 pandemic has been no exception. It’s disrupted nearly aspect of our existence, which, yes, has caused tremendous hardship and suffering, but it’s also offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reassess our values and lifestyles—to leave jobs that no longer feel fulfilling, to move on from relationships that have run their course, and to escape cities that suddenly feel stressful and overwhelming. In fact, the U.S. Postal Service reported that it processed nearly 36 million change-of-address requests last year, while home sales in 2020 hit the highest level since 2006, according to the National Association of Realtors.
That said, even the easiest move can be incredibly challenging—and perhaps even more so when we’ve already been dealing with a lot of uncertainty, anxiety, and change. So with that in mind, I’ll address two of the most common moving-related concerns we received from readers:

First things first, it’s perfectly normal to feel pangs of loss as you prepare to leave the city that you love. In the weeks leading up to your move, jot down all the restaurants, landmarks, museums, and other local attractions that’ve been on your bucket list for a long time and make a plan to actually do them. Equally important? Carve out some time for all the people and places that made your home feel like, well, home—have one last meal at your go-to restaurant, spend an afternoon browsing the shelves at your beloved indie bookstore, pick up some fresh produce at your favorite farmer’s market, host a farewell picnic in your local park, enjoy a nightcap at your neighborhood hangout, and order dinner from your tried-and-true takeout place.
At the same, to help you look forward to your big leap, make an “explore list” including everything you want to do in your new city. Think: parks and museums you want to stop by, restaurants and bars you want to try, nearby neighborhoods or towns you want to visit, hikes or day trips you want to go on, shops you want to wander around, and just about anything else that seems interesting to you.

Additionally, consider adding the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of people you’re hoping to connect with once you’ve settled in—whether that’s an old acquaintance who lives in your new city, people that friends have urged you to meet, important work contacts and colleagues, or anyone else who might become part of your new life.
Finally, to make the transition less taxing, you should also take note of the essential places and services that’ll make your life easier, including the closest 24-hour drugstore, hardware store, library, post office, office supply store, and grocery store. (If you already have the Google Maps app downloaded on your phone, you can even save these spots as “starred places” so you can easily locate them.)
As you slowly tackle that list, you’ll begin to feel more settled in. Plus, as you meet new people, you’ll have a great conversation starter: Simply ask them to share their top picks for what to eat, see, and do in your new city. In my experience, people love to talk about their favorite hidden gems and must-do activities.
You’re very wise to realize that making friends is a very important part of making your move happier.
For decades, behavioral scientists have spent a lot of time studying what does—and doesn’t—make us happy and if there is one point in which virtually every piece of research agrees, it’s this: solid social ties are one of the strongest, most consistent keys to happiness. We need close relationships with people who we can confide in, who make us feel like we belong, and who we can rely on for support.
In fact, one Harvard study, which followed the same group of men for more than 80 years, found that having strong personal connections with other people was most directly correlated to overall happiness, better health, and more contentment. That’s especially true if you surround yourself with happy people: a longitudinal analysis published in the BMJ found that a person is 15% more likely to be happy if a friend is happy—and that a person’s happiness can also influence—and be influenced by—their friends’ friends and even friends’ friends’ friends.

What’s more, close bonds not only benefit our mental health, but also our physical health. Research has shown that a lack of social connection carries health risks comparable to that of smoking, and is about twice as dangerous to our health as obesity.
Now, here’s the thing: Making friends can feel incredibly daunting—especially as you get older. So here are a few pieces of friendly advice…
While the pandemic—and the accompanying stay-at-home orders and social distancing—have inevitably made this process harder, one upside to our downtime is that there are even more ways to connect virtually with both new (and old) friends. Plus, it should become easier again as you begin to move out into the world a bit more. Until then,
do your best, and also cut yourself some slack if the process takes longer than it otherwise would.