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Wellness inspiration: Finding your happiness factor as an expat

Does your overseas posting leave you feeling fulfilled? Or do you yearn to find more meaning in your day-to-day activities? Kim Forrester, intuitive consultant, author and educator, discusses the issue of spiritual wellbeing among expats.

Purpose. Meaning. Inspiration. Personal contribution and a sense of achievement. Having a life full of meaningful actions and interactions can create an incredible sense of wellbeing, and make each new day feel like a purposeful adventure.

Interestingly, studies have revealed that the benefits of living with purpose extend even further than this “feel good” factor. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Canada have discovered that people who have a sense of purpose live longer than those who are uninspired and unfulfilled.

But, how do you make your days meaningful? Perhaps the answer lies in stripping back your idea of what a meaningful life is supposed to look like, and in redefining your own personal worth. First, it’s important to confront society’s obsession with “doing”.

What we do, and the contribution this “doing” has on others, is an inherent and unconscious factor in how we value ourselves. From a young age, we are taught that “doing” has the greatest value in society; it is our output, not our intention, which brings rewards.  (School reports, for instance, don’t normally grade children based on their compassion or enthusiasm, but rather their academic results.) Therefore, it is important to acknowledge that you have probably come to understand that it is what you do, rather than who you are, that matters; a concept that may understandably make you feel lost and deflated – and desperate to do something!

The most important step in rediscovering your purpose as an expat is to understand that there is another way of valuing the contribution you make to society – a value that has very little to do with how busy or productive you are, and has everything to do with who you are and how you choose to view life on a daily basis. In fact, your purpose may be as simple as choosing to be happy.

In 2008, researchers Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler published an incredible study that revealed that happiness is contagious. According to their extensive research, contentment flows out from “happy people” like ripples, lifting the overall wellbeing of their wider social circle (including many people they may never meet). When you give yourself permission to do things just because they bring you joy, you not only increase your own happiness but you also have a profound, positive impact on the wider community.

Therefore, a key to finding purpose in your life is to start choosing daily activities based on what will make you happy in the here and now. Once you free yourself from the need to feel productive, you may find yourself inspired to enjoy a range of activities you had previously (and possibly unconsciously) regarded as wasteful. These may include learning a new skill or hobby you will never use again, watching a movie alone or enjoying a conversation with interesting people.

But, what if you don’t know what makes you happy? It can be easy to lose your sense of self and to forget the things that naturally uplift and inspire you, especially when you’re living away from the place you call home. Dr John Demartini, human behaviour specialist, teaches a simple way to rediscover your personal values; the innate drivers that determine how you find purpose in life. By truthfully acknowledging the answers to a range of questions, your highest values can be revealed. These questions include, “How do I spend my time? How do I fill my personal space? How do I spend my money? Where am I most reliable and focused?” Once you have determined your highest values, you can seek activities and hobbies that nurture these values and fill you with a sense of purpose and fulfilment.

Of course, the next challenge may be finding fulfilling activities that are available and affordable. If you struggle to find the perfect outlet for your values, review your current schedule and acknowledge how these actions currently help you fulfil your highest values. You will be surprised at the purpose and meaning that can be found in everyday activities.

Take, for instance, a weekly walking group. For those who value community highly, this simple activity may offer a sense of belonging and connection. For those who value financial security, the same group may provide an opportunity to network and discuss employment opportunities. For people who value their children above all, the activity may be a chance to nurture themselves so that they can be fully present for their family later that day.

Waking each day with a sense of purpose is not a selfish luxury, nor an unobtainable fantasy; it is a vital component of overall wellbeing. By making simple changes to the way you view yourself, your value and your daily activities, it is entirely possible to claim a daily sense of purpose – even in the ever-changing climate of an expat posting.

This story first appeared in Expat Living’s July 2015 issue.