Ever wondered what makes some expatriates happy and others not so happy? Here is my take on it: THE WINNING SEVEN™ or 7 Habits a Happy Expat.
1. Happy expats are intensely curious. Coming to another land is always interesting. You get to learn about the culture, you get to experience a different way of life, you get to try new foods, and maybe even new sports and new hobbies. A whole new world opens up for you. Being curious around this new world leads to happiness.
2. Happy expats accept others as they come, they don’t judge, and they don’t try to change people to their liking. No matter how much things may bother them and no matter how much they may disagree, a judgmental attitude never gets anyone anywhere. Accepting that things run the way they do is the key to happiness.
3. Happy expats look at everything as an amazing learning experience. Someone once said that “life is always offering us new beginnings, it’s up to us whether to take them or not.” I don’t remember who said it but it’s an empowering way to look at what’s available to us at every moment of every day. And especially to those of us who get this incredible opportunity to not only travel but also live in different places.
4. Happy expats find opportunities wherever they are and they don’t lament those they’ve left behind. Life of an expatriate consists of one move after another. Sometimes we know when that move is coming and sometimes we don’t (in these days of “the crisis” many of us will move suddenly). Opportunities that were open to us in one place may not be available in another. But remember “life is always offering us new beginnings…” There will be new opportunities, so do you want to spend the time lamenting about what you left behind or do you want to spend the time listening and looking out for what’s opening up for you?
5. Happy expats know that feeling sad at times is part of the game. A happy expat doesn’t mean a giddy-at-all-times expat. A happy expat means also an expat who knows that being sad at times is part of the expatriate experience. Being sad about leaving friends behind; being sad about leaving your family far away; being sad about quitting a job or changing a career … this list can go on and on. The difference between a happy expat and an expat that’s not happy is that for the former the sadness is something that’s natural and something that doesn’t take over your life and makes a victim out of you.
6. Happy expats share. Sharing means so many different things. It may mean sharing with your friends and family when you are sad – going through the stressful times alone is no fun. It may mean sharing with a coach – a right client-coach partnership will undoubtedly make your expatriate experience richer. It may also mean sharing your experience with others, helping those like you find the best facets of their expatriate journeys.
7. Happy expats stay clear of criticism, sulking, and stonewalling. It is so very easy to blame someone else in your misfortunes. It’s easy to say that everything around you is horrible; it’s easy to sulk in your misery when you’ve convinced yourself that it’s not up to you; and it’s easy to put a barrier between you and the place you live in. Yet there is no way you are going to be happy where you live, if you consistently engage in criticism, sulking, and stonewalling. Staying clear of those attitudes will help you be happier.
This post is an excerpt from an on-line course called “7 Habits of a Happy Expat” available now at the Global Coach Center Academy. The course includes a more detailed description of the concept of 7 Habits as well as hands-on exercises and tools on how to adopt those habits during your expatriation. Download the course HERE.
Copyright © 2010 by Global Coach Center.
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happy global people never ever use the word expat
Very insightful. I’ve read a lot on the subject and haven’t come across anything like that. I need cheering up!
Perhaps it’d help trying out the course on these 7 habits? Here:
Thanks for your comment!
I agree with your comments, you have to enter into the spirit of your new country accept the differences and look at the great opportunities that present themselves. Every day should be a voyage of discovery and you will be a happy expat.
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I never realised how helpful could be until I worked abroad.
Everybody had to get on with everyone, because your colleagues at work were often your access to social contact too.
Maybe the recruiters selected well!
There did not used to be any obvious psychometric tests etc.
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i had to leave paris because i lost my job 50 years old and a single mom so went to barcelonain 1997 it was so cheap i culd buy a place right away nesr the sea a penthousewithout a lift 12 years later i have lost my mobility 2 hips protesis and cant change flat because barcelona real estate is more expensive than paris although i am 66 looking at san diego ca it seems more feasible back to the usa also it is true that older catalan never invite you in thir home ciao any one from san diego?
An excellent summary. Thank you, I enjoyed reading this.
Great post. I think you’ve gotten to the heart of why some expats love life abroad and others can’t wait to get back “home.”
Anni, I once lived in CA for a few years. It is beautiful in La Jolla and Del Mar and noth along the coast. But it is also extremely expensive. Because of Proposition 13, the people who owned real estate many years ago and experienced the extreme rise in value do not pay property taxes on the current value, but the new homeowners do. You will need to own a car. In the eastern areas of the city it is very hot and dry. The forest fire pollution in the summer can be very unhealthy, although that is much less of a problem if you are near the ocean. The economy of California is a chambles. Of course it does not compare with the cultural life of Paris. But it is a beautiful place if you can afford all of these financia obstacles. Remember also that people who worked in the US all of their lives paid into Social Security and will be receiving their pension while you will not be eligible. So one question is whether you have eligibility for a pension in any country. The areas of cheap real estate are primary in the South and the Midwest. New Mexico is very reasonable and is cosmopolitan, but it is very dry there and definitely not on the coast. Seattle is not as sunny as San Diego. It is cheaper than California but more expensive than the mid-Atlantic. Seattle has good public transportation. Maybe you will find the best deals in the suburbs of NY if you look in the right places. You can live near Princeton or near Westchester County, NY and take the train to NY. NY City is actually safer than many other places because there are so many people out at night.
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Being an expat myself I think that the most important thing is that you never forget why you left your country of origin in the first place.
If you want to become a productive individual in your adopted country you need to completely immerse in the culture, learn the language, learn the customs that way you can guarantee yourself success.
When you emigrate to a different country, hopefully, you bring a set of skills that when combined with the new set of skills that you are going to learn will make you very valuable in the marketplace and that alone will open you the doors to a better future.
Don’t forget who you are and where you are going and your experience as an expat will be much more rewarding, just my two cents.
I can only add a few things to this wonderful post: To be happy in a new country, the first thing to do is to learn the language and the history of that country, and learn it well.
Then be sure to follow their most popular comedy shows, cartoons and politics. This way you can understand and appreciate this country’s humor, what is funny in this land, and most importantly, LAUGH ALONG. Thanks for this great discussion.
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Margarita, thanks for a GREAT blog. It’s wonderful to hear a very positive take to the expat experience. I am all for it. I am working on a book focusing on the positive side of integrating into a new culture. I think it’s easy to complain and be negative when things get tough, as they sometimes will. Expat life can be a struggle, but it’s a much richer experience if we can appreciate the rainbow on our way to the pot of gold.
Would love to hear more about your book, Anna Maria!
As an expat for many years, I love this piece! It absolutely characterizes what makes a good overseas experience.
As an artist and an art teacher who offers English-language art classes wherever I live (currently, that’s Zagreb), I’d also like to add one: that taking a class doing something creative (drawing or painting, writing, woodworking, or learning a musical instrument, for example) can help an expat both to get to know other people, and also help them transform whatever they are feeling into something interesting and/or beautiful.
Keep up the good work!
Thank you, Leah! I love that suggestion!
Keeping my eyes and mind open has been the most important for me. But of course there are times when I catch myself thinking “…the grass is greener…” Make friends with the locals ASAP, keep in touch with your native community and go back to visit your native country when your heart aches. By staying positive and accepting the differences I really enjoy my life and challenges it brings.
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Good! There are two interesting scholarships here, for an interesting comparison:
International HR studies found that well adjusted expats are open-minded, optimistic and tolerate ambivalence.
Positive psychology studies (aka “happiness studies” by Seligman) show 3 main sources of happiness (in decreasing order of importance): 1) higher meaning in life and work, 2) full engagement/commitment/flow with work/hobbies, 3) pleasure, well-being.
If we cross-check both lines of study, I’d say that an expat, to be happy, has to be open-minded but also feel some meaning and purpose in his/her work. A good network of support (family, friends if available) are very important! Then the rest (language, culture, history, gastronomy) will fall into place naturally…
Funny to see that many happy expats were pretty unhappy at the homeland… and most happy natives become unhappy abroad… This has to do with being cosmopolitan and feeling special, which, again, connects with finding true meaning in work and life.
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