Desperately Seeking Happiness
I want to move to Bali. I’ve come here on holiday three years in a row and it’s absolutely the most perfect place I’ve ever seen. The people are lovely, the scenery is stunning, the food is delicious — I just can’t say enough about this wonderful island. I can’t wait to leave behind the hassles and irritations of life in the Philippines. This could be a new beginning for me, a chance to be truly happy…
A few days ago, I met an American woman who has lived in Bali for four years. Strangely, I saw discontentment in her face — perhaps the worst kind of discontent you can have — the kind that stems from moving halfway around the world to find the life of your dreams, only to discover that you’re no happier in paradise than you were in your hometown.
How is it possible to be unhappy in Bali, I wondered. Isn’t Bali the symbol of earthly paradise? According to the American woman, it’s not. She explained that traffic is a nightmare, there are culture clashes with the Balinese, many of her fellow expats are assholes…
Wow, that sounds a lot like expat life in the Philippines! In fact, her comments have started me thinking about all the miserable expats I know. A huge percentage of expat conversations revolve around the trials and tribulations of living in our adopted countries. Where I live, the daily outpouring of grumbling keeps many a local bar in business. There’s an endless supply of gossip: this guy’s wife (and weren’t we just at their big wedding party a couple of years ago?) just ran off with all his money; that guy’s new baby doesn’t look anything at all like him and didn’t he used to brag that he had a vasectomy twenty years ago? Someone else’s new house has cost him three times the building estimate and it still isn’t finished — apparently, he’s now so broke that he can’t even pay his bar bill. I myself have provided fodder for the gossip hounds: “Did you hear that India’s husband ran off with their maid?” The drama seems endless.
How is it that we can live in such beautiful places and yet find ourselves so miserable? The only answer I can come up with is that happiness either lives or doesn’t live inside each of us, regardless of where we are. If we’re miserable in Chicago, then we’re probably going to be miserable in Bali. Or Tahiti. Or Costa Rica. Likewise, we can meet extraordinarily happy people living in what we might consider the shittiest of places.
Sure, we can give it a try. We can buy that one-way plane ticket and a suitcase full of new clothes. We can arrive on our tropical island, where a fabulous new house awaits us, filled with beautiful new furniture; we can make new, interesting friends — and our lives will feel fresh and exciting — for a while.
Until that horrible day when we notice the first signs of tarnish on our shiny new lives. We argue with our neighbors. Our new lovers disappoint us. Our money has evaporated — where the hell did it all go? To our amazement, we realize that we are experiencing exactly the same kind of problems we had at “home”. We’re shocked. How can this be? We’ve completely started over. Or have we?
The truth is, we arrived in our new country with the same patterns of thinking and behavior that we’ve used our entire lives. We have the same minds we’ve always had. If we habitually think negative, self-destructive thoughts, we’re eventually going to unravel in paradise, just the same way we did back home. If we used to get drunk and punch the guy on the next bar stool at home, we’re going to do it in Bali. If we want our meat and potatoes cooked exactly like they were cooked back home — well, we might as well not plan on being an expat for very long. Yes, of course we can change our ways, but that takes time and effort — not just another change in location.
Like the American woman in Bali, I have moments when I think I cannot possibly stand one more day in the Philippines, days when I really want to move. But I know that those moments pass. How could Bali make me happier than I already am? It can’t and it won’t.
So, I’m choosing stay in the Philippines. As the saying goes, “Wherever I go, there I am”. It really is all in our heads…