ABC of expat woman's life: H - Happiness & Expatriation

23 April 2012, by

As a person who is deeply engaged in helping people to create a happier (expat) life, I will try to answer the following questions:
Are expats more or less prone to be happy?
Is there any correlation between being happy and moving abroad?
What does it take to be a happy expat?

About happiness

In order answer these questions, I researched the subject of happiness. Thousands of theories, books, and articles have already been written on the topic.

The vast majority seem to hint that there is no "one-size-fits-all" theory that will make all of us happy. That is why I believe the most important thing is how you, dear reader, understand the word happiness, and how it occurs.

If you are not 100 percent certain what your sources of happiness are, take a few moments to complete these three simple sentences:
I feel happy when..
I smile when..
I lose track of time when..

Types of happiness

In literature, two types of happiness are often mentioned:

The hedonic happiness

The hedonic happiness is based on the short-term feeling of pleasure, received from outside sources such as buying new clothes, food and drinks, and often involving consumption of unhealthy food or alcohol.

The eudaimonic happiness

This type of happiness comes from within, strengthened with meaningful people in our lives, and is based on:

- Self-esteem

Those who truly accept themselves tend to accept others too, including their flaws. As expected, they tend to feel good about life in general.

- Clear purpose in life

Those who know their values and live according to them, are aware of what they want to offer to others and how do they can contribute to the world.

- Strenths & Daily life

Being aware of your strengths and actively using them in daily life increases the number of times we can experience the state of flow - a moment when time does not exist and you are purely immersed into an activity.

- Love & Social relationships

One of our core needs in life, the need to belong and to be accepted cannot be realised without love and close relationships with others.

- Learning

A way to continuously set new goals and accomplish them.

It is self-evident that by realising the second type, the eudaimonic happiness, we can find and experience the real long-lasting feeling of happiness. Nevertheless we are often caught up in the pursuit of the first one.

Happiness & Expatriation

Now, what is the link between happiness and expatriation? In my work I meet a lot of expats who cannot feel happy, especially after the first year abroad. I think it can be easily explained by some of the previously mentioned factors.

expat woman happiness
Photo by Flickr user ND Strupler

For most people, family and close meaningful relationships are top values. Living abroad causes, especially in the beginning, a serious shift in that sphere of life. In my article F - Family & Friends you can find more on how to create healthy social ties.

On the other hand, I also believe that expat life can be a great opportunity to increase your chances of being truly happy. Although it is sometimes a bumpy road, it enables you to rethink your life and your purpose.

Moreover, it may allow you to "grow faster" than those who stay back home in a more stable and predictable environment.

We learn the most and the fastest through direct experience. Next to learning obvious things such as a new culture and new people, you learn about the most important person in your life - yourself.

For instance, many decided to start a new career or start a new business as a part of their new expat life. Would they have ever done that if they had stayed back home?

Analysing the habits of my expat clients that help them to be happy abroad, I have identified the following ones as essential:
Positive mindset
Awareness of one's strengths
Feeling of being in control of one’s own life
Ability to live in here & now
Ability to face difficult situations without running away from the problems

Journey or Destination?

I do realise that to me happiness is a journey, not a destination; a journey that consists of many short moments. I think the best "teachers" of happiness are children, who live 100 percent in here and now.

And while I - the mother who wants to go and play in the park - am impatiently pulling my daughter’s hand, she is already enjoying the journey! She stops all the time to look at ladybugs, flowers that just started to bloom etc.

Her ability to live the moment and feel happy is pure and unforced. Mine is based on having to choose between dragging her into the concept of "happy playing" or stepping with her into the moment of happiness.

Well.. I have already made my choice! Have you?

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Comments arranged by date (Total 4 comments)  
April 23 2012, 09:05AM

I love the public transport infrastructure, the bicycle paths, and the affordable healthcare system in the Netherlands. I hate that it's really hard to survive in public space as a vegan - the Dutch eat so much meat and cheese that it's almost impossible to get vegan food at school, at the workplace, or on the go. I also hate their insensitivity and ignorance of carbon footprint issues (at least in comparison with Germany or Scandinavia), and that most of them are so distant and private that it's hard to have a social network of locals, not other expats. And, of course, the language is pretty awful. Other than that, it's a pretty great country to live in.

May 23 2012, 11:43AM

Happiness, well-being is an experience, life is an adventure, both are intricately connected. Yes, I agree, a journey that unfolds, moment by moment and not a "destination"!

Dorota, I enjoyed your blog!

May 23 2012, 12:20PM

hey, I am HAPPY to hear you enjoy it ;-))

I like your expression 'a journey that unfolds', has also something mysterious about it.

May 23 2012, 04:37PM

As expats, there is so much that is unknown/uncertain/out of our control. When we learn to embrace such uncertainties, our feeling of well-being increases. Even better than embracing uncertainty is to develop an appreciation of the "mysterious".

It is about "expect the unexpected, or you won't find it" - and the unexpected can be in our favor!

About the Author
Dorota Klop-Sowinska

I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am a certified coach / counselor at Dutch...



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