Are you happy in France?

Written by Diane on. Posted in on everything else, on life in France

happy in france

A few weeks ago, I caught up with an old colleague I hadn’t spoken to in years. We chatted a bit and a few minutes into our conversation she asked me if I was happy in France. I thought about it for a few seconds and confidently answered that yes, I was. After 4 years of living abroad, I can honestly say that I am happy — but does being in France play a huge role in my overall happiness? How much does your physical location factor in to who you have become? How much should it?

Let’s talk…

Are you happy in France?

There’s a lot to say in this post, and I’m purposely not editing this and making it polished and focused.

But let’s get into it… Many of these ideas I’m bringing up here have been swirling around in my head for years but haven’t solidified into something I could put into words until very recently. It has a little bit to do with living abroad, a lot to do with self-reflection and even more to do with just living life, getting older, meeting new people and gaining a new perspective on the things going on around you.

Bluntly put, I feel like there are core foundations of life that need to be fulfilled for you to be “happy.”

I’m simplifying things here but if you can build a life for yourself that fulfills these three core things I detail below, the mundane annoyances are really inconsequential to the overall scheme of things. I put “happy” in quotes because I feel like happiness is different for everyone, it also changes as we go through life and live in different places, both emotionally and physically. Happiness is fluid. There’s day-to-day happiness with surface level things and then there’s a deeply personal, innate happiness that radiates from the center of who you are.

florida keys sunset

What influences happiness?

A whole lot. But first let’s talk about those little things that don’t make us happy. There are mundane annoyances in all of our lives. You know what I mean — that 6am train to work. The neighbor’s wailing baby you hear every night at 2am. The brutally cold winter. Those extra 10 pounds you can’t seem to lose. And that home improvement project that you just keep putting off. Add ’em all up and you’re one walking ball of negativity and complaints. These are all aspects of your life that maybe make you unhappy in the moment but don’t count for much. They don’t impact who you are and how you act at your core. They are just a part of being alive and being in your current situation and don’t impact the essence of who are you.

Then there’s the flip side.

An article I read recently (it’s about international dating and worth a read if you’re into that) outlines three things below that I, too, believe are so essential to being happy no matter who you are, where you live and what you do. How do I know this? Because I know what a mess it is when one (or all) of the things below are out of alignment and in need of major help. You need all three and you need them to work in tandem.

They are:

  1. Relationship fulfillment (relationships with a significant other and/or good friends and family)
  2. Job fulfillment (creating or working in a field that you believe in, so you get a sense of purpose and meaning, where you’re hopefully appreciated and can provide for you and your family)
  3. Personal fulfillment (having enough time/energy to pursue your hobbies, try new things, and live the kind of life that makes you happy, whatever that means for you)

To break that down further, relationship fulfillment differs for all of us but boils down to being understood by other human beings in this wide world. It’s knowing someone has your back. Does it mean a long-term partner or spouse? It can. Maybe a close friend? A close relative? They all count and I feel that a happy life needs some type of relationship fulfillment to be complete.

Next, work is a big one. Many of us spend 40+ hours a week at work. Office job, work-from-home job, on-the-road job, caretaker job, or stay-at-home-mom jobs all count. They’re all valid and they impact overall happiness. Life needs purpose and a job that’s purposeful and meaningful is also huge.

Finally, the third aspect is personal fulfillment. Time for hobbies, creative outlets, travel, time to decompress, Netflix and chill, socializing, whatever it is for you — is so, so important. What’s the point of living if you never take time for yourself?

When one of these aspects is out of whack or non-existent or in flux, we struggle as human beings.

I have. I talked about it in this mistakes I made post a little.  For example, my major work stresses became personal stresses and a simple task of Tom not emptying the dishwasher by my imaginary deadline sent me into a mental tailspin one night. Just that made me think I hated housework. I hated my house. I hate this town. I hate this country and I hate my life. In about 10 minutes. Only after taking a step back and getting a grip on reality was I able to see what was really going on.

One of the three core areas in my life was all wrong in my life at that moment, and I knew it. The stupid dishwasher had nothing to do with it.

So back to that article I linked above. After reading it, I had an a-ha moment because those three things I listed are what make you the person you are, in my opinion (there are other factors too, but stick with me). I’ve gone through patches where I haven’t felt fulfilled at work as I mentioned, or in my leisure time, and in relationships.

That’s how life goes sometimes and we ride the wave up and we come crashing down hoping we don’t get sucked under.

But if we work our hardest to maintain these three areas of fulfillment, I truly believe the rest is just noise. The silly things that get us down day to day don’t really matter when you look at the big picture. They’re fun to complain about, but complain and move on. That crap is in the details.

To be clear, no one is going to have all three of these core things in perfect harmony all the time… maybe far from it. But as long as we’re working toward getting there and making things better, that can be enough.

To give you another example, I was speaking to an acquaintance the other day who was extremely frustrated with her life as an expat. She happens to be a trailing spouse (hate that term) whose husband was offered a contract abroad a few months back. She is unable to secure a job abroad because of her visa. She told me she wasn’t adapting well and hated pretty much everything in her new country including the humidity, the language and even the culture. All of it. Everything was dirty and different and all day she just sits home thinking about how she wants to go home.

We kept talking and we dug deeper. She then told me she had left a hugely fulfilling job with a great team in the USA to help her husband make his career dream come true abroad. She also deeply missed her circle of girlfriends.

She was resenting her new “home” because of what her life had become and not because there was anything wrong with her new place of residence. The change in climate and day-to-day pace were all annoying to her and something to get used to for sure, but they weren’t the real reasons of her unhappiness. What did she decide to do? She made connecting with her girlfriends back home more of a priority and spends time each week networking and keeping in touch with her corporate contacts. There’s more to say on how to deal but to make a long story short, getting someone to show you a different perspective can take you from a mess to feeling pretty good and in control.

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To wrap up, I truly believe that if you feel fulfilled in the areas above or are at least working toward that – no matter where you live or what your age or place in life – that you will get by just fine.

Not without hiccups along the way. Not without strife and conflict. Not without bad days.

But if we can work our hardest at finding and maintaining a worthwhile relationship, meaningful work and dynamic personal life, the rest is just in the details. And somehow they all seem easier to manage when you feel OK on the inside about the things that really matter.

So I guess what I’m telling you is that I’m OK here. In France. In life. In love. I hope you’re OK too, wherever you are.

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Comments (14)

  • Tina

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    Very good text, Diane! I think you’re absolutely right in most of those aspects. I guess what makes going abroad so hard is that you need to build up at least two of those pillars again right from the start: You need to find a job and make new friends. Even if you go abroad to live with your significant other, you still need to build up a new social network of friends and acquaintances around, because as long as you’re isolated except for your spouse, you won’t be happy in the long run. The same is true for moving within your own country I assume, but going abroad makes it a bit more difficult because there are also all the new customs (and language!) you have to adapt to.
    Either way, thanks for sharing those thoughts! I’m glad you can say you’re truly happy in France. 🙂

    Best regards,
    Tina
    (My blog is in German by the way, so sorry about that! 😛 )

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thanks Tina! Abroad or not, I think the 3 areas I mentioned are required for happiness anywhere, at any stage in life. And those three things will look different for everyone. But I wanted to write this because it’s something that’s been on my mind awhile. I think sometimes we let the details (surface level things) dictate how we feel (or how we think we feel, both positive and negative) when really some deeper issues are at play. When I see myself getting annoyed and upset, I try to figure out what’s out of balance and it’s not an easy task to fix but being aware is part of the work. Thanks again for reading. I’ll use Google translate on your blog!

      Reply

      • Tina

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        Yes, I absolutely agree with that, but I understand that those difficulties make it hard to grasp for people who haven’t lived abroad. And yeah, you’re right there too – it’s much easier to just get angry at some superficial stuff, when there’s actually something wrong on a deeper level. It takes a lot of effort and self-reflection to get to the core of that though!

        Haha oh dear, that’ll probably have a funny outcome… I should try Google translate on my own blog for my amusement 🙂 I’m not an expat though, I’m just blogging about teachers’ stuff and student life 🙂 But thanks anyway!

        Reply

  • Cynthia

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    Diane this is very well written and comes from the heart ! I truly believe that our inner state of being is the most important. If we truly know who we are on that level we can adjust better in a new environment. I feel that if a person has a deep commitment to unconditional love they have a better chance at happiness. None of us know what life is going to hand us as we get older. Some are faced with severe challenges in youth as well. If we are at peace with ourselves on an inner level we are better able to cope in any given situation. There will always be challenges with health, relationships,family members, job challenges and losses. If we have peace on an inner level we can find true happiness in the midst of any situation or environment. Have a great day !

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you! I’ve learned that if you feel crappy on the inside, that everything in life is so much harder. Stupid things like deciding what to wear and what to eat for breakfast become chores just as much as figuring out a big project at work. If we’re calm and sure of ourselves on the inside, everything else seems so much easier to tackle. Thanks so much for taking the time to read through my post. 😉

      Reply

  • Debra

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    Great post Diane. I’ve always felt happiness was a state of contentedness that one feels day in and day out. Being retired I have had to feel good about other things in my life. I came to realize that work was simply a part of me and did not define who I was. I’ve always had hobbies I’ve enjoyed and my husband and I enjoy doing a lot of the same things together so that became integral once we both retired. We are actually now considering a permanent move to France and feel that if we are content with life here, we can manage it anywhere. We’ll face life’s challenges abroad the same way we do here!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you, Debra. I completely agree with what you’ve said and that if you feel at peace with your life that you can manage anywhere. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

      Reply

  • Jo-Anne

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    Being happy in where a body lives is always part of a body being happy in general, you can’t feel truly happy is you are living in a country or state or even town that you do not feel at ease, relaxed and all in all just happy

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hello Jo-Anne! Thanks for sharing your point of view! This is a big topic. I understand what you mean and of course our physical location plays into our overall contentment to some degree. For me, I separate the type of happiness that comes from within and the day-to-day happiness with the things going on around you. Like if your life is a mess (lost your job, had a bad breakup, have no hobbies), moving to an island paradise that is by all appearances beautiful won’t fix who you are on the inside just because it’s sunny. On the flip side, if you’re deeply happy with the core areas of your life, sometimes the actual place you live in feels more manageable and easier to handle. Of course if you hate the winter and you live in Chicago, you’ll be miserable so there’s a balance. But in my life personally, I feel like little things start to really wear on us more when these core areas are out of balance. Regular stresses of life become so much more. Just my opinion. Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts 😉

      Reply

  • Revé

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    Wonderful post. I’ve been mulling over similar thoughts when confronted with my happiness (or lack thereof) in Spain. Those of us overseas can easily just blame our environment when life isn’t going well. Trying to maintain a healthy balance of personal, professional, and relationship fulfillment is not easy, but it’s important to be self-aware of what exactly your life is lacking and what we can do about it.

    About 90% of the main problems I have in Madrid are not necessarily things that would not happen back in the states, which was solidified for me when I spent a couple months back in Chicago over the summer. At the moment, I’m more content professionally, but my personal/relationship fulfillment is lacking. I recently realized that my blah feelings towards work were really a result of feeling unfulfilled in my personal life. I work from home, which I love, but since I don’t have a boyfriend or close friends here, I’m a bit starved for human interaction at times.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hello, yea it’s so easy to blame our environment when life starts getting tough and that certainly plays into it but it’s never the whole picture.

      I know what you mean about that lack of human interaction. Even if you do speak with people, it’s probably in Spanish and unless you were raised speaking the language, it probably feels foreign at least to some extent. Or the comfort level of the conversation just isn’t what it is in your native tongue. I hope you’re able to find some people you connect with — on a friends level as well as a romantic one. It’s not easy. But the first step is identifying what the problem is so you’re already there. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      Reply

  • Catherine

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    This is a great, great post and gives me food for thought. As an ex-New Yorker, I moved to New Jersey when my children were young. I was happy in both NYC and NJ. Currently I’m in the philadelphia suburbs and I hate living here. I absolutely 200 percent despise it. I am happy living here with my Frenchman–and I’m even happier when we go back to France each year for our annual three weeks. I’m “comfortable” in France–just as I was in NY and NJ. And you made me think as to why I’m so miserable here. My kids are grown and I feel that I no longer have a purpose. Due to my age, it is IMPOSSIBLE to find employment here–and I miss working. But, it is a struggle to find happiness and happiness is a state of being. …….
    Catherine recently posted…Down With Love!My Profile

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thank you, and glad it got you thinking! Sorry that your current living situation isn’t ideal, but the good thing is that you’ve figured out that your lack of purpose is contributing to your overall unhappiness there. I’m going to send you some good job vibes. 😉 Maybe if you’re able to tackle the employment hurdle (or volunteer or find an awesome new hobby, anything that will help), life in the Philly suburbs will become more bearable. In the meantime, I totally understand how it can make you hate everything about where you live.

      Where did you live in NJ? I grew up in Somerset County and have family out in West Chester, PA along the Main Line. Love to visit! 😉

      Reply

  • Jill BARTH

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    So interesting, thank you for sharing this. A contemplation on the concept of fulfillment, how we find it (or how we let it emerge)…

    I’m glad to have come across this post to ponder.
    Jill BARTH recently posted…A Warm Welcome: Fenn Valley VineyardsMy Profile

    Reply

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