How To Be Happy #1: 11 Tips For Finding Happiness in Your New City



In this half of 2012, at least 3 friends of mine moved to new cities (what is in the water?!)

Carly moved to Sydney from Perth, Ceilidh (Lili) moved to Denver after many years in Barcelona, and Wendy moved from London alllll the way to Auckland.

Two of them moved for their partner’s work, and one moved simply because they wanted the adventure. Well I know a lot about that!  And by email I have been trying to help ease things…

But then Lili asked me… “You seem actually happy. How the hell did you do it?”

In reality, I would say it took me 2 years to adjust and actually feel happy.  The first year we had no money and lived in a shoebox flat in a noisy building.  I had no piano, no real friends and found the climate and culture change more of a shock than I was expecting.  I let my environment hugely affect how I felt about things.  And then I decided to change.  And once we were both employed, I started to really love my new city.  My new country, even.




1.       Stop comparing. I know, I know, it’s hard.  It’s now colder than your home.  Or windier.  You may find the people aren’t as friendly, or are more in-your-face friendly. Customer service might not be the same standard, the food may be unfamiliar and the television/media may feel alien and irritating.

But this is a different country, remember?  They may speak English, they may look the same as you, they may do many many things that you are used to, but it is not where you were brought up.  So stop thinking of it that way.  This is a new place, full of new experiences.

Think about how you felt when you first tasted your favourite food.  How amazing is it that you may get to have that initial feeling all over again, just by discovering something foreign and completely new in your life?  It could be a game-changer.


2.     Don’t recreate old environmentsThis is particularly tough for Aussies and Kiwis who move to London or Canada or ex-pat areas of Shanghai and Japan.  But why did you move to another country, if you are only going to spend time with Aussies, doing Aussie things in an Aussie part of Shanghai?  And London may be just “an experience” or “a platform to Europe”, and it feels a bit like home, right?

But it is still a foreign place.  There are so many amazing locals you can meet by living with locals, working/socialising with locals, and doing local things.  You may end up making friends with your own countrymen, anyway, but it’s worth a shot to get out there. Be the foreigner! (It gives you intrigue).

Even moving to Edinburgh to be with Dave, I’ve tried to avoid Kiwis.  Gosh, that sounds kinda mean.  Maybe not “avoid”, but I haven’t actively been seeking them out.  Why?  Well, I didn’t want my brother’s experience of the UK.  He lived in London with 5 other Kiwis in a Kiwi area, worked with Kiwis, socialised with Kiwis, and simply lived and worked in London so that he could visit Europe on long weekends.  I know he loved his time in London, but that’s not what I wanted, or who I am.  I am an immersive traveller.  I want to feel like I’ve really lived in a place, not just visited for a while.  And so…



3.     Stop thinking in temporary terms.  Even if you are going to be in your new city for 6 months, 12 months, 2 years, try to think of yourself as living thereBecause you are!  You didn’t move to the other side of the world to have a long holiday.  You moved to have new experiences, meet new people, travel, and/or be with the one you love.  Even for 6 months, you have a lease, right? You have a job and a whole new neighbourhood.  You have a new life.

Find a flat you really feel at home in.  Sometimes this is tough and takes some hunting, and you may have a less than ideal one first or even second time around, to get you started, but once you find somewhere you just love, with flatmates you really like (or on your own/in your couple if you can afford it), you’ll have a lot more enjoyable experience.  You may initially spend a lot of your time at home.  Don’t forget you don’t know many people yet!  And if you don’t spend much time at home? Then it’s still nice to come back somewhere that feels really comfortable.

And it’s yours, even for a little while.  So put down some roots, even if it just means putting your favourite art prints on the wall.  Everything can be shipped or kept or given away when/if you go back home.  Obviously, don’t buy a house or get a dog (unless you are loaded with cashola or there are very liberal quarantine regulations going on!), but once you start thinking “this is home”, you’ll start feeling “this is home”.


4.     Go on foot.  Go on, get lost!  Unless you have a job waiting in your new city for you to start straight away, spend as much time during your job searching days out of the house.  I used to job hunt in the mornings online for hours, then get on a bus and go into the city and wander around.  Or I’d go to one interview or meeting and take my time coming back from the city.

If you have a car, leave it at home (unless you’ve moved to Los Angeles or something).  Cars mean you bypass things very quickly.  Getting lost on foot makes you take the place in slower, and take strange turns you wouldn’t necessarily take in a car.  If you have to drive to get into town, park somewhere accessible and cheap and go back to your car later, even if it means walking a few blocks to get to civilisation.

Being in a city centre sucks when you’ve got no money, but getting lost wandering the strange stores and side streets is one of the best things to do in a new place.  You’ll start to get a feel of how the city all slots together, and where the small hidden places are.  Google Maps saved my bacon a few times when I got really lost, but you can always walk into a cafe or restaurant and ask for directions if you don’t have a phone.  Your foreign accent will help you feel less embarrassed asking (yes, even your Kiwi one in Sydney)!

Even if you just go get a coffee, you’ve been out and about.  And next time you go into town with your partner or for work, it’ll all feel much more familiar.  I still have “ahhhh” moments.  I realise one area I’m in all the time suddenly connects to another area I know, just by driving a different street over.  I feel so settled now, knowing the different areas better.



5.     Keep in touch.  Your family and friends at home are still super important, of course.  And thanks to the magical land of the internet, it’s so easy to keep in touch with them, even from thousands of miles away.

Embrace social media.  Even if you hate Facebook, get a Twitter account, get instagram, a blog;  whatever you choose will help your loved ones far away feel like they are still a part of your daily life.  I know my mother opens up her Instagram every morning and feels like she’s actually keeping up with my day.

This is not just for you.  Don’t forget your family and friends at home may suddenly feel a bit lost and detached from you, and want to see how your new adventure is going.  Having them asking and wanting to know what’s going on will drive you to remember to share your life online.  And it’s a great personal record to look back on:  “This is what my year in Shanghai was like!”

Skype saved our relationship.  Having a visual conversation rather than potentially misreading emails, or confusing the tone over the phone?   There are so many visual cues we give out when we are speaking in person with someone – so much of communication is actually unspoken.  Give Skype a go! It’s free!



6.     Develop a hobby.  Sounds really silly and a bit lame, right?  But about a year in to my time in Edinburgh, I thought I’d find a class to take.  Most cities that I have visited/lived in have an Adult Education Programme or if you like, an Adult Dance or Arts Centre.

I re-took up Ballet and American Jazz for the first time since childhood when I was in New York, then took Ballet again here in Edinburgh for a year before we hit financial issues.  I also enrolled in a Dressmaking course here for a long time, which was a completely new skill for me and while I’m rather rubbish at it, I felt a sense of accomplishment each time I made something new or learned a new stitch.

Lili’s new hobby is visiting all the museums she can in the wider Denver area, with her little boy (who is soon to have a little sister).  Carly is photographing all the street art and sculptures she can find in Sydney.  Wendy is taking a night class in Auckland in Mandarin!

Even if you don’t make any real friends to socialise with outside of your hobby, you’re getting out and doing something new.  And getting out means talking to people you wouldn’t have otherwise met, developing new skills, and feeling like your life is more than just going to work then going home.



7.     Ditch the bad stuff.  This is like a clean slate!  Gosh.  You can ditch that nickname you hate by never telling anyone about it.  You can make better impressions by learning from past mistakes.  You might be known as a bit of a slob at home, but you’ve decided to shape up and wow, who from your new city knows that you’ve not always been the most house-proud, tidiest person ever? (I’m still trying on this one).

Cut and dye your hair, play with new fashion styles, grow a beard.  I’m not saying to fundamentally change who you are, but even if you haven’t left drama behind you, this is a fresh start, which could be just what you need.  Take some chances, use the opportunity and see what happens.

And moving countries can really make you clear out your clutter!



8.     Say yes more.  Maybe at home never in a million years would you:

–          Go speed-dating
–          Go on wine tastings
–          Take last-minute trips to places you’ve never heard of
–          Eat snails
–          Eat haggis
–          Drive on the other side of the road
–          Dye your hair purple
–          Climb a mountain
–          Run around in the snow in a bikini
–          Wear a bikini full stop! (who knows you, right?)
–          Get those tattoos you’ve been waiting for
–          Explore a [new] religion
–          Learn about local politics
–          Go to gigs by local musicians
–          Join a protest
–          Go on a game show
–          Start crossfit
–          Become a vegan for a while (or forever!)
–          Decide to stop speaking English entirely (when living in a foreign country, obviously!)
–          Completely change career
–          Run marathons

The possibilities are endless.  You might hate it, but hey, say yes!  If it doesn’t work for you, you never have to do it again.



9.     Let yourself be unhappy…  It’s totally okay to be unhappy. To hate your new city. To hate your job.  To hate the way they do things, because it’s not like you’re used to at home.

Being unhappy means you are trying.  You’ve got a job, you’ve explored the city, you’ve found somewhere to live.  You can’t be unhappy to start, because you’ve only just got there, right?  So the unhappiness generally sets in after you’ve secured these things.

And it’s just not the same.  I know.  It’s not home.  It doesn’t feel like home to you.  You don’t have many friends and you are miserable without those comforts you are used to.  Your partner doesn’t get it.

But telling yourself you “have to like it because [you’ve] moved allll this way” is just bullshit.  You shouldn’t give up easily, but you can have days where things are just not how you want them to be, and your life is not what you pictured when you decided to move.

So give yourself an end date.  Set some goals in place, put a date in place, and then forget about it.  Because if you tell yourself every day that this all has an expiry date?  All you’ll do is think about it.  Write “DECIDE” in big letters on a day in your diary 6 months ahead.  And when you reach that date and you’re still there?  DECIDE.  How do you feel? Is it going to get better?  Are there things worth staying for? Are the opportunities and experiences better at home?

Don’t forget: the grass is always greener.  Seriously.  It is all about perspective.  And money doesn’t matter.  You will get more later.  So if it costs a lot to throw in the towel but you still hate it?  Spend it.  Happiness is so much more important than a higher bank balance.



10.  …But then DECIDE not to be.  If you’ve decided to stay, then stay.  Put your back into it!  Throw yourself into this life you have chosen to have.  No one is forcing you to be far away from home or in a new city.

You either chose to be here, or you came because you love someone who chose to be here.  So try and love it!  You love him/her and this is where they want to be.  So find something that excites you, find a better flat, find new flatmates, find a new hobby.  Find something in this new life that makes it even more worthwhile to be there.

And then BE THERE.  Truly embrace it, or you will never be happy there.



11.  Stop complaining.  There is a point where those around you (yes, even those who love you the most) will want to say, “You know what? If it’s so bad here, well, leave, then!

Yes, bad days suck.  And bad days happen to everyone.  If you don’t have anyone to rant about these bad days to, then you need a blog to rant on.  Or you need a really good friend at home to email.  Write down your anger and your frustration or vent over drinks with a friend.

And then let it go.  You need to make a list of what’s not working and what you want to change, and start making steps to change things.  A new country can be an amazing, incredible, exciting, terrifying experience.  You may make some of the best friends you’ve ever had.  You may meet the one you want to spend the rest of your life with (and then struggle over which country to live in!).

But if you’re not willing to look past the bad?  Then maybe yes.  Maybe you need to go home.

This could be the kick up the ass you need to change things, improve your life and truly experience everything.  So go for it!


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