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The pursuit of happiness

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

This morning, I listened to the latest episode of the podcast, Hidden Brain. This week's theme is all about happiness and while the episode played, I couldn't help but think about how so many of the points they were making perfectly applied to living overseas. So often you hear people saying (or at least alluding to the idea) that their lives would be so perfect if only they could live overseas - in Europe - in a city like Paris or a lovely cottage in England, to be specific. I guess this is the reason that so many of those dreams are attached to retirement - because at some point, the reality of life is going to kick in and you're going to have to figure out how you're going to stay in the country legally, how you're going to get money for food, and how you're going to communicate, if you don't already speak the language.

Still, for so many of us - and I am absolutely included in this - before we moved overseas, we thought of the easy access to travel and how great it would be to eat fresh croissants (or whatever) every morning because after all, you "live in France now." For me, moving overseas was therapeutic and a way to start over because the life I had in the United States was one I no longer wanted.

I admit that I moved overseas in the pursuit of happiness. I wanted a clean slate and after all, if my parents were able to emigrate from their tiny poverty-stricken country in Latin America to the United States with three kids in tow, then I could certainly take control of my life and move to a country of my choosing and with a degree and my bilingual capabilities, how hard could it be?

I'll save you the details and just say that I cried a lot. Some of the hardships were so obvious in retrospect but I honestly had never considered them before, others stemmed from cultural differences that were minor on their own but felt so heavy collectively, and still other hardships were things that I could not fit into my brain (like having to go to the exact branch where you opened your bank account if you wanted the full range of services). I thought I could fix my life in one swoop by moving overseas but that is not what happened. Over the course of many years, many jobs, many more international moves, a lot of journaling, a lot of yoga, and a lot of hard work, I finally came to a place where I finally felt that I'd arrived.

But here's the thing - it's not tied to a location, or a job, or a relationship, or a house, or anything like that though, all those things contribute to this feeling. For me, I arrived when I learned to accept and to see that all those challenges I'd faced early on brought me to this exact place. It was the exact combination of choices, circumstances, and luck that helped me find that feeling of peace.

If you are like me and moved abroad hoping that it would be the magical solution to your problems, you may have already realized that they're still there. You can change your identity and start over (and I know people who did just that) but your past is still tethered to you in some way and in order to truly reap the rewards of whatever a new life has to offer, you will have to make peace with whatever you left behind. Trust me on that.

If you moved overseas because of a job and this is in essence, a temporary assignment in your life (i.e. a military PCS), then you risk missing out on this period of your life if you stay focused on the past or the future. Enjoy the present and recognize - and allow yourself - the limitations that exist because of the distance. We want to believe that because of the internet we can still "do everything" but some things are not as simple overseas. True, not everything can be put off but if you have the opportunity to plan, then try to rearrange things so that this is not the time when big changes have to be made (like fixing a error with a dependent Social Security Card) because you will spend a lot of precious time on a potentially futile task.

In either case, take a listen to this week's episode of Hidden Brain called, "Where Happiness Hides." I hope you get as much out of it as I did.

Photo by Anders Jildén on Unsplash

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