My first guest post is from Erica, an amazing and influential woman I met a couple years back. Has it really been that long? I have always admired her lifestyle and her outlook on life. Not to mention her sense of humor. Please please stop by her lovely blog, read her words and take in her stunning photographs.
Hi! I'm Erica, from Expatria, Baby. I'm a professional nomad, a part-time writer, a wife to a Swiss chef (which, PS, not the same as a Swedish chef), and a mum to a certifiably adorable three-year-old. Liz asked me to keep her blog company while she was away, and write here my thoughts on happiness, and well, okay! I was thrilled to oblige!
I've spent the past eight years (give or take) living thousands of miles from my home country. My path has lead me through India, Switzerland, China, Japan, and now, Indonesia. And, along the way, I've learned a thing or two about happiness.
You see, I've long dreamt of this life; from the age of 14, I had the notion that I would create for myself a life of adventure treks through crumbling temples and hidden beaches (check!), meals served on banana leaves (check!), and languid afternoons spent on the porch of my colonial mansion overlooking some tropical sea (ummm...working on it!), and this would be the path to happiness.
But it's not quite so simile. Living thousands of miles away from your home, beyond the reach of friends and family, outside of your usual support network, and away from all that's familiar, you're faced with a set of unique challenges, that can really put a damper on the whole happiness game.
In the expat life, the easy comforts of community are gone. So too is your identity, particularly if you've given up your job to move abroad with your partner, (which, yeah). There's there stress of moving, saying good bye to home and friends ever couple of years. Then there's culture shock, language barriers, and homesickness. And frustration. A simple task like mailing a letter can become a two-hour ordeal. And let's not even talk about the time that I bought a washing machine and it took about seven days and about five different people to install it.
Living abroad brings you closer to the types of things that test a person, but if you're paying attention, it also distilled life down to what's most essential.
After eight years living aboard, and being varying degrees of happy, I've got a pretty good idea about the ingredients for a happy life. And it's not what I had imagined. It's not gobs of money (btw, still waiting for that), it's not domestic help and never scrubbing my own toilets (though that does have a certain charm, let me tell you), or fancy parties, or days free to do nothing but go shopping, drink gin and tonics, and have my nails done.
It's much simpler than that.
Good, familiar food is, like totally major. When I was living in Japan, pregnant and just a little crazysauce, I literally cried big hot tears at the sight of a perfectly roasted chicken. Sadly, said chicken existed only in the pages of a cookbook and not in my kitchen due to the lack of availability (and cost, omg THE COST!!!!!) of many Western ingredients and my tiny, oven-less kitchen. But I'm pretty sure that warped up in my tear-stained tissues was a lesson: lady, you need to live some place where you can roast a nice chicken (and / or find or good quality cheeses).
Community is essential. I lived three years in Japan, but never managed to break into a social circle. I found two friends (thanks to my blog, which may speak more about my nerdery that I'd like to admit), but that's about it. Friends were hard to come by, and I was pretty lonely. Contrast this with life in India, where six weeks in, I had an address book full of contacts and a regular social life. Though India was harder in may respects, I was happier because I was busy doing things, and making connections.
I need a good balance between chaos and functionality. I appreciate a bit of crazy…I like weaving in and out of traffic on the back of a motorcycle taxi. I like walking down the sidewalks and spotting make-shift outdoor barber shops. I like the occasional traffic jam caused by a parade of elephants on the highway (India….I'm looking at you!) But I also kind of dig when things, just, you know, work. When trains run on time, or you send mail and can reasonably expect that it will arrive. China was a good fit for me in this regard. It had the right amount of crazy (street size barbers FTW!), but it also has an excellent and totally functional infrastructure.
I need an occupation that gives me an identity. When I gave up my demanding job in China, and moved to Japan, I though I'd revel in the opportunity to stay at home, filling my days with such meaningful pursuits as keeping a perfectly tidy kitchen, watching super-smart films, and reading classic literature. Well, let me tell you, the bloom went of that rose pretty quick, when six weeks in, a trip to the 7/11 was the highlight of my day. With nothing to challenge me, I was pretty unhappy. I've found that I need a job, or at least some sort of activity that gives me an identity beyond wife and mother. To that end, I'm working on a new project. Go here to see more about it!
What about you? What sorts of things do you need to create a happy life for yourself?