We live in a society that idolatries happiness. Happiness became a symbol of success. If you are not happy, you are a failure, you don’t know how to live right, you are doing something massively wrong. Definitely you are missing out on something that everyone else has figured out ages ago. With that being said, if YOU haven’t figured out this secret to living (and trust me, very few of us in the history of the Earth has), you will probably go through life feeling depressed and unhappy.
Well, I am certainly joking and that's definitely not why you came to this blog post for. But it feels like that sometimes, doesn't it? It is a very natural thing to attempt to find happiness in life. However, we don’t seem to have found an alternative for not being happy all the time. Everything that is not “happiness” as the external values dictate, is considered misery, emptiness, dullness. We are still not able to not be happy and be whole and present at the same time.
Happiness is not a stable, unchangeable way of being, but rather something flexible that we can work towards. The word flexibility is key to living a happy life because it states that being open to different emotional experiences allows you to acquire different skills and the ability to tolerate a period of discomfort. Going through these ups and downs move us towards a meaningful existence. It give us the feeling of overcoming challenges and becoming a better person with that, it put us in the hero’s journey.
According to researches, going through adversity in life can have a positive effect depending on how we respond to it. My theory is that, although we are evolving as humanity, we still find ourselves in between the reptilian and the limbic brains, not knowing when and how should we activate the latter for different life responses. If you haven't read this blog post, please do so to understand the reference.
How can we practice this? My first answer would be: "simply understand that these two mechanisms are taking place inside of your head, constantly". Just by reading this blog and the previous one on What is Happiness, you are exercising consciousness about the different responses to challenges.
And let’s be frank here: there is no such thing as simply let go of negative thoughts. Whoever gives you this advice is talking non-sense. Quite the opposite, those discomforting thoughts and feelings have a reason, a meaning, and they need to be heard. The only goal is to allow the feeling to come, but not get too comfortable to the point of thinking that feeling is you.
That said, happiness is not a given thing. It is a choice and requires certain skills and abilities. How, then, can we strive for happiness without attachment?
1. Relish life
Relishing life means not only appreciating, but noticing the things around you. It is the definition of mindfulness: taking time to intensify the joy of being in that moment. You can relish every moment in your life by noticing the beauty of everything: watching the sunset or sunrise, eating a good meal, enjoying a friend’s hug, cooking, noticing the colours in the sky, smiling back at a baby, admiring your own tears. And if it's too difficult to do that automatically, schedule time for it. Living abroad is so easy to have things around us to admire (if we don’t stick to the challenging and uncomfortable things abroad). Different buildings, trees, flowers, people, the sound of a language. The idea is to notice and enjoy the experience as it happens, no matter how small or big it seems. You can relish the experience by silently observing it, by using humour, by writing yourself a letter describing how you’ve felt or however way feels best for you. And you can do this about things that happened in the past, what you wish to happen in the future, and what is happening in the present. And don't take only my word for it. Here's Beyoncé's message for you:
2. Aspire for the future
This means to feel hopeful and create a meaning for your life, without expectations. Many of my clients talk about lack of purpose abroad, and I feel you. Moving to a different country shakes your ground and makes you question a lot of your life decisions. And by aspiring for the future, generating clarity for the things that you want to see in your future without, the way you want to feel, to think, to behave, to live… you bring back the sense of purpose. It doesn’t mean to cultivate blind positivity and ignore the feelings of pain, neither expecting things to come to you just because you wished for them and then get upset if they don’t happen. This is rather about generating optimism and wishing with your whole heart whatever you want to see in your life.
By aspiring with your full senses and creating a future in detail, you become a magnet. This is because you create clarity on what you want and develop confidence in your potential. More than that, it activates the part of the brain that controls consciousness: the Reticular Formation. This is formed by a network of nerve fibres and cells which has many different tracts responsible for motor and sensory information from and to the brain. It connects to many parts of the brain, controlling emotions and behaviours by producing substances that manages our happiness and sadness.
But most importantly: it regulates what we focus on our brain. That means that by aspiring and generating clarity on what you want, you open up a new world of possibilities that were simply already there, but your selective brain, that needs to protect you from information overload, was simply not allowing you to see them. And you sitting in your chair back home, thinking that law of attraction was only a woo-woo thing.
3. Limit negative news
That does not mean ignoring a friend or family member in need. Strongly connected to the previous skill, limiting your intake of negative news will support you to generate this optimistic view of life and existence. By surrounding yourself with less overwhelming and negative information, current challenges seem easier to overcome and your personal goals easier to achieve. I’ve seen a lot of people living abroad but reading every day all the sad news about their country of origin, ruminating that guilt of having left. I’ve also heard a lot about focusing on the negative parts of a certain culture and country, or also those who hand out with people from their “home” country who constantly complain about that. Hope and an optimistic look to yourself and the world you live in seems to be connected with how well you perform, how much self-esteem you have and how much vitality you show.
By bringing together whole heart aspiration, optimism and hope, your goals will seem much more at reach and this will generate a sense of meaning and purpose in your life, which is a key ingredient of happiness. And if you want more information on that, I can hardly recommend the book by Mark Manson, Everything is F*cked.
4. Show you are thankful
Good things don’t just come to us because we are amazing and deserve it. Sometimes we do, but there are people and circumstances acting on the background, supporting us all the way. Show you are thankful every day. And not only to yourself in meditation or affirmation but extend that to the appreciation of the people around you and what they do for you. It’s actually quite funny to think about it, but being thankful generates self-confidence and optimism, by acknowledging that good things happen to you and that we have people in our lives that care for us.
It transforms constant desire for more into contentment and if you read the previous blog post, it put us back in the eudaimonic pursuit of happiness. Besides speaking your gratitude out loud, meditating and sending your thanks, you can also write gratitude letters to yourself and to other people, even to those you have unresolved situations with.
5. Empathize with others
Empathy means caring about others. It is different than being thankful for what others do or for who they are. By being empathetic, you show you understand people’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviours, even if they are different from our own. This is so important when we live abroad! When we can see the world through someone else’s lenses, or in our case, through someone else’s culture, we become less judgmental, less frustrated, angry, and disappointed. Not to mention we become a person that more people want to be around.
By showing empathy, others will also be likely more empathetic towards you. Knowing that you have people with whom you connect and that you can mutually count with each other is another essential ingredient for happiness, and empathy is a great way to achieve that. Finally, by exercising empathy towards others we eventually also become more empathetic towards ourselves. And self-compassion is key for a happy life.
6. Give more than you receive
Giving things make us happier than receiving, did you know that? Being kind and generous make us feel less stressed and more connected with the world we live in. And giving doesn’t mean only money or gifts, it can also be acts of kindness of any form.
According to this research, when we give something to others, our life satisfaction, self-realization and physical health are improved. For us who live abroad, it might be harder to find out about volunteer opportunities without knowing so much about the country or having a network yet. But there are websites like GoVolunteer or Serve The City, and many others in the region and city you are from. And if volunteering is not your thing, there are always different ways to give something on our daily life, even if that is a smile to a grumpy cashier or a friendly conversation with a homeless person.
7. Care for your body
Last but not least, investing in physical health is a key ingredient for a happy life. I know you must have read this in many different places, but the food we eat and the amount of movement we give to our body is essential for our feel-good physical and mental state. Especially when we move abroad, we might at first not put much attention to this. We might not want to go to the gym alone and not have any friend to go for a run with. We might miss an accountability buddy or we might as well not have enough money to invest in a sports club. Luckily, there are apps like 30dayfitness, Downdog, and several others that can support you with that. And right now with the coronavirus situation, many of them are for free and you can even follow live classes on Instagram. And caring for your body can also be: choosing a routine that makes sense for you and makes you more energized (bedtime and wakeup time).
Although this is not a recipe for a happy life, as I don’t believe in that, those are things you can add to your life to generate happiness in a more organic and effective way.