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Your Happy Place

What our favorite physical places do for us, and how we can use them.

Key points

  • Place attachment refers to the cognitive-emotional connection between a person and a physical place, and this “relationship” has many benefits.
  • Thinking about your favorite physical place can be used for stress reduction with a technique called “guided imagery.”
  • Refugees experience a forced breach in their person-place relationship; their numbers are growing and they deserve our compassion and support.

Physical spaces and places affect how we feel, think, and behave. This sentiment is at the heart of environmental psychology. You can harness the benefits of thinking about your favorite physical place–your literal “happy place.”

People feel connected to their favorite places. In environmental psychology, place attachment refers to the cognitive-emotional bond that forms between an individual and a physical setting.

What Is Your “Happy Place”?

Before we get too far, let's start with a simple exercise: Identify your favorite physical place and spend a few minutes thinking about why you love it.

What Makes a Place Our Favorite Space?

What is it about your favorite place that makes it beloved? How did it/does it serve your psychological needs? Your reasons likely conform to the research on the psychological functions of place attachment.

People are often attached to places where they made treasured memories, so unsurprisingly, a person’s favorite place is often associated with warm memories and feelings of nostalgia. It’s often a place where you experience positive emotions like joy, hope, and happiness.

For many, it’s a place where they feel carefree, relaxed, and away from the hassles of life, doing things they love. People are often attached to places where they feel/felt safe, free, and secure. For these reasons, many people’s favorite place is a childhood place, a vacation place, or another place from their past.

Sometimes we’re attached to somewhat mundane everyday spaces. Even a bedroom or bathroom can be a favorite place if it provides sanctuary and retreat, another place attachment theme.

We are often attached to a place we go for self-reflection, and favorite places are sometimes the site of personal growth. Your favorite place may be where you go to reflect on your problems or your goals. Many people have a local favorite place for self-reflection, often a bench in a park or a place with a view of nature.

Places of natural beauty are also common favorite places, often combining many other place attachment qualities. For example, places of natural beauty may provide opportunities for contemplation. Their “scope” may provide positive emotions like “awe.” Being in natural areas can provide a sense of “being away” from everyday hassles. You might associate a scenic place with special times with family or friends (nostalgia).

Use Your Happy Place for Stress Reduction

It’s good to think about your favorite place(s) in terms of what they tell you about your psychological needs and values. Sometimes this can provide some clues for what you should seek now. It can remind you how you benefit from a place so that you revisit it, or it can inspire you to locate a readily available place that can meet similar needs.

Did thinking about your favorite place make you feel good? You can harness your “happy place” to reduce stress-related thoughts and feelings when you use it as part of a meditative technique called guided imagery. Try this when you’re stressed and ruminating (overthinking) for a cognitive-emotional reset. Try it when stressful thoughts threaten to hijack your sleep.

Close your eyes and breathe slowly in and out while imagining your happy place. How did you feel there? What did you do there? How did the physical space smell, look, sound, and feel? Mentally walk through and enjoy the remembered experience.

The “Shadow Side” of Place Attachment

Place attachment can be beautiful, but it has a “shadow side.” Person-place bonds are sometimes fragile. People can grieve the loss of a special place, especially if it's one to which return is impossible, for example, due to the passage of time. Also, people are often attached to where they live with their families. Sadly, things like environmental disasters or war may force them to relocate.

Climate change-related natural disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding, alter or destroy physical places, and “climate change refugees” are rising. Climate change forces an estimated 20 million people to relocate yearly–war, civil unrest, political persecution, and poverty force millions more to relocate.

We should have empathy for those that lose their homes and homelands. They mourn their loss of place while trying to find and adapt to a new one.

References

Albers, T., Ariccio, S., Weiss, L. A., Dessi, F., & Bonaiuto, M. (2021). The role of place attachment in promoting refugees’ well-being and resettlement: A literature review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18, 11021-11032.

Devine-Wright, P., & Quinn, T. (2020). Dynamics of place attachment in a climate changed world. In Place Attachment: Advances in Theory, Methods and Applications, 226-242.

Low, S. M., & Altman, I. (1992). Place attachment. Springer, Boston, MA.

Scannell, L., & Gifford, R. (2010). Defining place attachment: A tripartite organizing framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30, 1-10.

Scannell, L., & Gifford, R. (2017). The experienced psychological benefits of place attachment. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 51, 256-269.

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