Is Location Independence Your Key to Happiness?

Posted in: Blog

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts by nomads that have been dealing with meaning, family issues, and happiness. So often we read about a “4 hour work week” or life in exotic locations and conjure images of ourselves in a hammock, sipping something great, our hair fluttering in the warm tropical breeze – completely happy and without a care in the world. In fact, research in positive psychology has shown that people on vacation actually report no increased levels of happiness (Hebert, Richard, Vacation: Not What You Remember, Observer, July 2005, Association for Psychological Science). What seems to be happening now is that people who have achieved this “dream” existence are now reporting back on the realities – myself included.

Our Nomad-ing Reality

Let me give you a little taste of my current reality. I am on a beautiful island with some of the most gorgeous beaches I have ever seen set against a backdrop of dark green mountains. There are hammocks in abundance, surfers and hang gliders. Everything is here to make the fantasy picture complete and on some days it is like a fantasy. AND – for every beautiful day there are probably 5 rainy days. The weather here has rarely become warm enough to get into the water without a wetsuit, let alone to even sit on the beach in a swimsuit. My entire family (myself and 3 long haired daughters) have been battling lice since our first month here. I swear we will never rid ourselves of them. We have difficulty getting our clothes dry, difficulty in keeping mold from growing on every surface, and our Texan palates are craving something – ANYTHING that has some spice to it. The Brazilian palate seems to be all about mild food.

The kids fluctuate from happiness in their new environment to frustration and sadness that they cannot communicate with their peers here fluently. They very much want to be a part of the social scene but are limited by their grasp of the language. I am in the same boat – wanting to be able to communicate with others and being frustrated at my limitations.

In a Foreign Country You Are a Foreigner

The reality of moving to a foreign country is that you are a foreigner. You have no social community, no family ties, no history in an area. You will not be “in the know” about what is happening locally and you will spend a lot of time playing catch up just trying to figure out what is happening around you. Everything from large things like, “why is there a military air show over my head right now?” (this happened to us yesterday – turned out it was in honor of Children’s Day – a holiday we weren’t even aware of), to small things like “how do I use this pay phone?” take a lot more mental energy than if you were home.

Traveling is stressful and when you’re under stress all of your personal issues can come to the forefront. For me, I tend to be a pretty introverted type person. I have close and long term friends but I don’t make them quickly. It takes me time. This doesn’t really work if you’re a nomad because there isn’t time when you’re moving intermittently from place to place. So my introversion is a big challenge for me in this lifestyle. My middle daughter is hugely verbal and at home can spend hours talking with friends on the phone or in person. This doesn’t work for her here since she can’t speak fluently. My youngest daughter is easily embarrassed and fears other people commenting about her. You can imagine what that is like for a foreign, light blond girl in a Brazilian environment. We each have our challenges.

No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

What I’m getting at is probably best reflected in the famous quote from Buckaroo Banzai – “No matter where you go, there you are”. If you’re thinking about becoming nomadic remember that no matter how light you may pack you will have to take your self with you including all of your current insecurities and challenges. Wanting to escape from a situation or a personal issue is not a great reason to hit the road. Look closely at your motives because you may find yourself in another part of the world only staring at the same person in the mirror.

So, if we haven’t escaped our issues, why are we doing this? I really believe in the premise put forth in “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers” by Debbie Ford. The premise is that by trying to avoid our “dark side” we actually cause it to worsen. The only way to effectively deal with our issues is by looking at them square in the eye, understanding them and accepting them for what they are. Becoming a foreigner in a distant land is a sure fire way to bring some of these issues clearly before your eyes so that you can deal with them. Now let’s be clear here. I am not suggesting that you travel the globe with a serious mental illness. Adding stress to that situation would be counter-productive. I’m talking about insecurities and behavioral patterns in healthy people who would like to improve.

Make Your Nomad-ing Life a Meaningful One

If you want to become a nomad, do so because you love travel, love the excitement of being somewhere new and learning new things constantly, do it because you want to see the world while it’s beauties still exist AND know that you will experience a great many personal challenges at the same time. Take nomad-ing as an opportunity to deal with your challenges in new ways. Being in an environment where you don’t know anyone brings a lot of freedom to try new ways of being. No one will know who you were at home. Be a new and improved you. The strategies you develop while you’re away will strengthen your self and your confidence.

5 responses to “Is Location Independence Your Key to Happiness?”

  1. Great post. I think the best advice I've gotten from established LIP's is "you cannot run from your problems, even if you move to the other side of the world, your problems will still be there if you haven't worked to correct them." If you're overweight or in debt, moving to Thailand will not change anything unless you take initiative.

    My second point is that there are two distinct types of stress – eustress and distress. Eustress is positive stress, such as the type you experience when on vacation. It can motivate and refresh you. Distress is negative stress that wears you out, such as the stress of a bad job or failed relationship. Focus on eustressing yourself (through traveling, exercise, etc.), rather than distressing yourself, and you'll be much more happy!

  2. NuNomad says:

    Great point, Brian. I like the concept of "eustress". Certainly we often seek eustress to add excitement, meaning and challenge to our lives. I mean, look at how many people are drawn to extreme sports! Eustress can be a catalyst for adrenaline and often adrenaline gives us a really positive feeling. At the same time, however, too much adrenaline can backfire. A lot of us who have been in competitive situations know when we have just enough adrenaline to help us perform to our max and when we've gotten too much and it just makes you feel crazy and not be able to perform. Travel can be a combination of both eustress and distress just depending on the situation we find ourselves in.

  3. Great article Carmen! You're certainly spot on about the challenges of traveling or living abroad, and people need to realize there is no such thing as an escape from the real-life issues one has to deal with. I've certainly had my share of personal challenges since I turned my whole life on its head. But your point is well made (and complimented by Brian's comment about eustress)–the part where you're pushing yourself to constantly learn new things, be resourceful and adapt–through foreign languages, new surroundings and new social norms to get used to, is invaluable to your growth as a person!

  4. seo says:

    Apparently, it’s the key to happiness! Interdependence is the dynamic of being mutually and physically responsible to, and sharing a common set of …

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