A few weeks ago, I caught up with an old colleague I hadn’t spoken to in years. We chatted a bit and a few minutes into our conversation she asked me if I was happy in France. I thought about it for a few seconds and confidently answered that yes, I was. After 4 years of living abroad, I can honestly say that I am happy — but does being in France play a huge role in my overall happiness? How much does your physical location factor in to who you have become? How much should it?
Are you happier abroad?
There’s a lot to say in this post, and I’m purposely not editing this and making it polished and focused.
But let’s get into it… Many of these ideas I’m bringing up here have been swirling around in my head for years but haven’t solidified into something I could put into words until very recently. It has a little bit to do with living abroad, a lot to do with self-reflection and even more to do with just living life, getting older, meeting new people and gaining a new perspective on the things going on around you.
Bluntly put, I feel like there are core foundations of life that need to be fulfilled for you to be “happy.”
I’m simplifying things here, but if you can build a life for yourself that fulfills these three core things I detail below, the mundane annoyances are really inconsequential to the overall scheme of things. I put “happy” in quotes because I feel like happiness is different for everyone, it also changes as we go through life and live in different places, both emotionally and physically.
Happiness is fluid. There’s day-to-day happiness with surface level things and then there’s a deeply personal, innate happiness that radiates from the center of who you are.
What influences happiness?
A whole lot. But first let’s talk about those little things that don’t make us happy. There are mundane annoyances in all of our lives. You know what I mean — that 6am train to work. The neighbor’s wailing baby you hear every night at 2am. The brutally cold winter. Those extra 10 pounds you can’t seem to lose. And that home improvement project that you just keep putting off.
Add ’em all up and you’re one walking ball of negativity and complaints. These are all aspects of your life that maybe make you unhappy in the moment but don’t count for much. They don’t impact you at your core. They are just a part of being alive and being in your current situation and don’t impact the essence of who you are.
Then there’s the flip side.
An article I read recently (it’s about international dating and worth a read if you’re into that) outlines three things below that I, too, believe are so essential to being happy no matter who you are, where you live and what you do.
How do I know this? Because I know what a mess it is when one (or all) of the things below are out of alignment and in need of major help. You need all three and you need them to work in tandem.
- Relationship fulfillment (relationships with a significant other and/or good friends and family)
- Job fulfillment (creating or working in a field that you believe in, so you get a sense of purpose and meaning, where you’re hopefully appreciated and can provide for you and your family)
- Personal fulfillment (having enough time/energy to pursue your hobbies, try new things, and live the kind of life that makes you happy, whatever that means for you)
To break that down further, relationship fulfillment differs for all of us but boils down to being understood by other human beings in this wide world. It’s knowing someone has your back. Does it mean a long-term partner or spouse? It can. Maybe a close friend? A close relative? They all count and I feel that a happy life needs some type of relationship fulfillment to be complete.
Next, work is a big one. Many of us spend 40+ hours a week at work. Office job, work-from-home job, on-the-road job, caretaker job, or stay-at-home-mom jobs all count. They’re all valid and they impact overall happiness. Life needs purpose and a job that’s purposeful and meaningful is also huge.
Finally, the third aspect is personal fulfillment. Time for hobbies, creative outlets, travel, time to decompress, Netflix and chill, socializing, whatever it is for you — is so, so important. What’s the point of living if you never take time for yourself? Will you really be happier abroad?
When one of these aspects is out of whack or non-existent or in flux, we struggle as human beings.
I have. I talked about it in this mistakes I made post a little. For example, my major work stresses became personal stresses and a simple task of Tom not emptying the dishwasher by my imaginary deadline sent me into a mental tailspin one night. Just that made me think I hated housework. I hated my house. I hate this town. I hate this country and I hate my life. In about 10 minutes. Only after taking a step back and getting a grip on reality was I able to see what was really going on.
One of the three core areas in my life was all wrong in my life at that moment, and I knew it. The stupid dishwasher had nothing to do with it.
So back to that article I linked above. After reading it, I had an a-ha moment because those three things I listed are what make you the person you are, in my opinion (there are other factors too, but stick with me). I’ve gone through patches where I haven’t felt fulfilled at work as I mentioned, or in my leisure time, and in relationships.
That’s how life goes sometimes and we ride the wave up and we come crashing down hoping we don’t get sucked under.
But if we work our hardest to maintain these three areas of fulfillment, I truly believe the rest is just noise. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
The silly things that get us down day to day don’t really matter when you look at the big picture. They’re fun to complain about, but complain and move on. That crap is in the details.
To be clear, no one is going to have all three of these core things in perfect harmony all the time… maybe far from it. But as long as we’re working toward getting there and making things better, that can be enough.
To give you another example, I was speaking to an acquaintance the other day who was extremely frustrated with her life as an expat. She happens to be a trailing spouse (hate that term) whose husband was offered a contract abroad a few months back. She is unable to secure a job abroad because of her visa. She told me she wasn’t adapting well and hated pretty much everything in her new country including the humidity, the language and even the culture. She definitely was not happier abroad. Not then.
She hated all of it. Everything was dirty and different and all day she just sits home thinking about how she wants to go home.
We kept talking and we dug deeper. She then told me she had left a hugely fulfilling job with a great team in the USA to help her husband make his career dream come true abroad. She also deeply missed her circle of girlfriends.
She was resenting her new “home” because of what her life had become and not because there was anything wrong with her new place of residence.
The change in climate and day-to-day pace were all annoying to her and something to get used to for sure, but they weren’t the real reasons of her unhappiness.
What did she decide to do? She made connecting with her girlfriends back home more of a priority and spends time each week networking and keeping in touch with her corporate contacts. There’s more to say on how to deal but to make a long story short, getting someone to show you a different perspective can take you from a mess to feeling pretty good and in control.
To wrap up, I truly believe that if you feel fulfilled in the areas above or are at least working toward that – no matter where you live or what your age or place in life – that you will get by just fine.
Not without hiccups along the way. Not without strife and conflict. Not without bad days.
But if we can work our hardest at finding and maintaining a worthwhile relationship, meaningful work and dynamic personal life, the rest is just in the details. And somehow they all seem easier to manage when you feel OK on the inside about the things that really matter.
So I guess what I’m telling you is that I’m OK here. In France. In life. In love. I hope you’re OK too, wherever you are.
Are you happy in France or wherever you are in life? Are you happier abroad or in your home country? Dig deep and tell me why…