When writing for a website that is mostly about different locations around the world that are popular with expats, it’s easy to focus way too much on the location itself when it comes to being happy. I think it’s common for almost all of us who are shivering away in a snowy winter city to think “If I were only in Hawaii (or Aruba or Bali etc.) right now I’d be happy.” But how long would that happiness last if it’s only based on sitting in the warm sun?
After reading an interesting article in the expat section of the Telegraph.co.uk website that discusses the notion of “doing something you love” as the key to happiness, I think it makes a great point. How long can you really sit in the sun and assume that you’ll be happy doing so?
The writer is living in Spain and gives several examples of how expat friends of his (some retired and some not) who are happiest are those who’ve gravitated toward an activity that they find fulfilling on its own. He mentions pet rescues and care that some are involved with, and that got me thinking of some people I know here in Turkey who are doing the exact same thing.
Volunteer or start a business, but do something
Shortly after I arrived here in Kas, Turkey last year I heard about a fundraiser for a local pet charity run by some British expats. I didn’t give it much thought until recently, but now I see that they’ve likely gotten involved because it’s something they really enjoy, rather than because it was a problem that needed to be solved and locals weren’t doing it.
Like other countries in this part of the world, there are cats and dogs everywhere you look, literally. Their population tends to regulate itself, and most locals have more pressing concerns than spaying and neutering pets. These expats could probably put the same effort into a program that helped local children and perhaps do more good, but the “pet people” derive happiness and satisfaction out of their organization and they are definitely doing way more good than harm.
The point is, this town likely has bigger problems than its pets, but this group of people here have found purpose in their lives which they wouldn’t have otherwise. I think it’s a good lesson for all of us. Sometimes charity work seems like it’s really not making a dent in any real problem, but the work itself helps people socialize and feel like they are contributing in some way.
For those of us who are decades away from actual retirement, it’s tempting to daydream that all we’ll need to do is find a nice little cottage on a sunny beach somewhere and our lives will be complete. However, research suggests that expats are happiest when they go out of their way to be part of the local community and also find an activity that they love. There are definitely plenty of unhappy expat retirees out there, and it appears that happiness takes some work and isn’t all about finding a hammock to relax in.