Thursday, April 23, 2015

Expat Talk: Gratitude



After a glorious week of sunshine, cherry blossoms, and blue sky, London is ... well, grey again. Temperatures are dropping and, in some parts of the UK, snow is even being predicted!

I've lived in London for over 8 years. In that time, I've slowly allowed myself to forget the charm and novelty of the city I once fell in love with. After bidding Sri Lanka a tearful goodbye a few weeks ago, I felt crushed about returning to England - the very place I once dreamed of living in. The place I worked so hard to build a life for myself in. The place I'd taped a postcard of next to my bed, so that it'd be the last thing I'd see before I closed my eyes at night.

And then: I was so angry with myself.

This life I have in London? These buildings, the traffic, the red telephone booths, the accent, the Thames, the afternoon teas? The coveted job in publishing? This used to be my fairytale. When did that change? My thoughts horrified me.

Gratitude is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I have so, so much. And yet I find myself wanting so much more. A new camera, a new watch, a new holiday in some exotic location abroad ... there's always something on my wishlist. And I want to stop wanting.

Have you seen that hashtag, #lifegoals? People use it liberally: from describing the perfect dip-dye to capturing an Instagram-worthy desk. I hate it. Especially now, when so many friends of mine are struggling with some serious life issues - some health-related, others not.

Wishlists and life goals are fine; forgetting to be grateful for what you have is not. Health, family, job security, shelter ... those are the important things in life. Most of which are completely beyond our control. When it's grey, when it rains, when I've had a bad day - I lose perspective.

In those moments, I want to shake myself.

What about you? Do you make gratitude lists to help keep yourself in check? If you live abroad, do you often lose sight of why you moved in the first place? It can be easy to forget.

p.s. the sun came out again, just as I finished writing this!
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31 comments

  1. Oh Jaime, how I love your posts like these. London is still too new to me I think for the novelty to have worn off (even if its been a year and half) - but in my 12 years living away from home, these feelings were always the worst right after a particularly good holiday. I felt completely lost after coming back from South Africa. I loved it too much. Everything felt new. I was 100% curious all the time and didn't have to fall into any routines or usual commutes. I questioned everything again and this became a regular routine in Brussels. It started to signal that maybe I was up for something new... I'm waiting for it to hit me in London. Maybe it will, maybe it won't... but for the moment, I can certainly sympathize! (Been recovering from a horrible cold and just saw I have so many of your posts to catch up on! Can't wait for the one on all-girls schools...)

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    1. Thank you, Jess! I think that stepping out of a routine and remembering to be curious is so, so important. Sometimes, I find myself getting into a routine on the weekends (or even the weekdays) that going out, etc. becomes repetitive. And I dread repetition. But I'm going to the ballet this Friday and I'm sure that I will, once again, become enchanted and excited and happy and grateful and remember what I'm doing here.

      Hope you're feeling much better now - I know you've been battling a crazy travel/work schedule AND a cold. I don't know how you do it!

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  2. Gosh, this is good. I'll be honest - a lot of the time I find myself thinking the same. But you know why? Because as we grow older, our ideas about what we 'want' change. I used to be so angry and upset that I hated my job(s) - I was never going to do anything 'proper', never earn more than a basic wage, never be respected. So I stuck at the idea of a 'career' in education, became a teacher, left, then got sort-of somewhere in publishing and was finally able to say to someone: 'I wrote something, it's in a book' (that you'll never see).

    And since then? Such a HUGE weight of self-inflicted pressure has lifted. My job is actually boring. I am under-valued and spend days not even interacting with another person (in the office). I have no personal connection to it, except that it pays me to live in a house, with my husband and cat, where we actually live our real lives.

    And that is the conclusion I have come to. I had to do all the 'stuff' - job-wise - that I felt I was supposed to do in order to reject it. Since realising, honestly, that my job doesn't mean anything to me any more (and not minding this) I feel like I've been freed and have been able to pursue other things outside of it. Like my blog, and all of the opportunities I hope I will create for myself because of it.

    I think reassessing what makes us happy is a great part of getting older - and probably one of the reasons so many people say your thirties are more enjoyable than our twenties. All that striving, urgh!

    Anyway.... sorry for the autobiography! You clearly hit a nerve ;)

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    1. I LOVE autobiographical comments, Laura, you know that! Thank you so much for sharing. It's really interesting what you say about doing all the "stuff" you felt you were supposed to do in order to reject it, but more so, this idea of "striving" - which I definitely felt in my 20s, as you say, but now that I'm in my 30s, I've learned to let go of that a bit. It's a relief, and empowering, in so many ways. x

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  3. I'm from the UK and I still feel like this. I have to remind myself when I walk past the Tower of London every day that it is one of the most famous buildings in the world and I have the enormous privilege of seeing it all the time. There's nothing wrong with wanting more but I guess it's the difference between being ambitious or being greedy, and I definitely struggle with that. And the #lifegoals thing bugs me too. In fact I've got a post scheduled on #relationshipgoals so look out for an uber rant on that soon!
    Cx
    charliedistracted.com

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    1. You've nailed it, Charlie - it *is* the difference between being ambitious or greedy, and I think that the problem is that I'm being downright greedy lately. I'm looking forward to your post on #relationshipgoals (or maybe not, as I'll probably be joining in on your rant!)! xo

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  4. This is such a hard thing to deal with and is definitely something I think we all suffer from. I'm terrible at this and am in no position to offer advice BUT when I'm feeling especially low (read: any non-sunny day), I try to remind myself what my life looks like from the outside. Think about maybe someone you were in fourth grade with who you haven't seen since. How amazing would your life look? You live abroad, have a healthy, supportive family, and a career you've chosen. We all want things – I don't know if that ever goes away, and I also don't know that it's always a bad thing – but try putting yourself in the shoes of someone else and then you'll see your life more clearly. (Said the person who complains nonstop.)

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    1. Absolutely, Robin! And that's what I do when I find myself in that "place" ... I imagine present-day me meeting high-school me (or even college-me! or even me from 5 years ago!) and showing past-me my present-life ... and then I feel like a total, utter fool. I need to kick myself in the butt more often.

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  5. So eloquently said. It's a good reminder for us all. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you so much, Rebecca, and for taking the time to read this post!

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  6. I write my gratitude lists on the blog because it gives me structure to think about what I'm really thankful for and all the good in my life each week. I've been a little lax the last few weeks, but I must get back to them as they're one of my favourite things to write.

    I love the idea that one day I'll have posts and posts worth of happiness and good fortune to look back on.

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    1. And I *love* your lists, Sorcha! They're the best, and they remind me to take stock of what I've got as well. I love the idea that you'll be able to look back on them someday with lovely memories.

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  7. Very well-put! Frequently I find myself taking stock of my surroundings and daily routine and ask myself "is this my life now? Is it making me happy?" Especially after visiting my family, who live 400 miles away. It's hard. I have to have faith I made the best choices for myself when I made them I guess! I try to do the same as you and list things I'm grateful for, just to alleviate that funk! x

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    1. Thank you, Dani! It's definitely harder when you live far from your family - I have a hard time saying goodbye to mine when I visit (they're nearly 5,000 miles away!), so I can totally relate. Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts! xo

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  8. Gratitude ... a tough one to think about on a daily basis. I've lived in West London for 10 years and although I am British, I am not from the city. I'm from West Cheshire and ended up here when I answered a vague job advert ... I ended up working for the late Queen Mother (but that's a whole other story!) My son is a Londoner and as a family, we love living in the London suburbs. The West End is 20 minutes on the Central Line and the museums are 25 minutes on the Piccadilly Line. And yet ... I find that it's difficult to be motivated about living in London (probably the best city on the planet). I'll suggest outings to my son and he'll reply, "We've been there lots of times!" This weekend, however, we are aiming for HMS Belfast, somewhere we have yet to visit. I'm going a little off track here, but my point is that it's easy to be blinkered about what we have and where we live. I'm grateful to remember that I live in a city with a 1000 plus years of history on my doorstep, even if a large part of it is waiting to be discovered by me and my family!
    Again, I'm way off track, but remembering to count your blessings is a step in the right direction.
    Oh, and one final point, I love how I never know what I'm going to be reading about when I stop by!

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    1. It's truly fantastic that you find new, fun, and different things to do in London all the time, Ruth! I think that's a great way to keep things "fresh" and remember what an amazing city we live in.

      And thanks for letting me know that you like the variety of posts! I also try to keep things "fresh" on here :)

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  9. Jaime, this post has hit me exactly where I needed it to today! After all the drama in my life in the past week, I've realised what I actually do have in my life. That I have people around me who are there to support me, that I'm fortunate enough to have a job, a family who love me, a boyfriend who is always there for me, and close friends that I know will always help me.

    And you know what? Through blogging I've made even more friends, like you, who are also there for me.

    So thanks for sharing this - and making me remember what a wonderful life I actually do have!

    Lauren xx
    The Lifestyle Diaries

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    1. Oh poor you, I know you've had a terrible week! I hope it is all sorted now. But you're right - it's often when things go wrong that you have to remember all the things that are going right. And I am *totally* there for you, even if we haven't met in person yet! :) Sending big hugs xx

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  10. I needed to read this today, Jaime. I'm literally just a few hours back from a trip to Berlin (and drinking peppermint tea out of a Berliner Zoo mug as I type this) and I'm already starting to feel the crushing post-holiday blues. I think I'm guilty of having a picture in my head of where I should be right now - the clothes I should wear, the place I should live, the things I should spend my money on - and because I'm so far away from that, I do feel pangs of envy over people who have a life which more closely resembles my idea of a "perfect life". Then I need to pinch myself and remember that, while I might not have that glossy magazine spread life, I have so much to be grateful for. Yes, I might have a small flat, a wardrobe from Primark and hair which never, ever sits quite right, but I have a life full of wonderful people and a little pay cheque at the end of the month which means I have the option to do things "just because", like go to Berlin Zoo on a whim for my birthday!

    x

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    1. Happy belated birthday, Charlene! And what an AMAZING birthday treat! Berlin is one of my favorite cities in the world. I know what you mean re: where you "should" be. I also struggle with this, and I think that's what I was alluding to when I referred to my "wanting more". I guess another thing to remember is how Instagram, blogging, and social media in general paints a very different picture than reality ... so many of those who have seemingly perfect lives may be going through some tough times. So you're totally right about remembering what you *do* have (and you have GREAT HAIR!)! x

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  11. This morning as I was washing my face with warm water, I paused for a while and just appreciated it. The fact that I have hot running water to be able to clean my face with just made me appreciative of a lot of things. I definitely need to stop and appreciate a lot more!

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    1. Absolutely, it's about the little things too ... I tend to forget those, and then feel like a jerk! Hot water is a luxury. I need to remember that. Thanks for reminding me, and for reading this post, as always!

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  12. I had one of these moments this week- 1.5 years after we left NZ I finally felt a little homesick. I missed my parents, a hilarious selfie I received from my little sister and brother at the Sam Smith concert with the caption 'wish you were here' made me well up... and I got sad and a little alone. But then I remembered the wonderful life I have here- the super supportive boyfriend, fabulous friends I've known since school and new friends from blogging... Life is good dammit and I am reminding myself to remember that everyday!

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    1. Oh Connie, thanks so much for sharing - missing family is so, so tough. It's hard to reconcile the lives we have "here" versus the lives we had (or could have) "there". I think it's one of the hardest things about being an expat. But, as you say, life is so, so good. And I think I need to just check in with myself now and then to remind myself of that! Thank you for stopping by to comment xo

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  13. Every week I think about the nice things that have happened to me over the last few days, whether it be having lunch with a friend, a quick picnic in the park, someone telling me they've liked a blog post or any other nice surprise, there's a lot to be grateful for

    Suze | LuxuryColumnist

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    1. That's great, Suze - thank you for sharing!

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  14. You worded it perfectly. I sometimes feel this way too. I've dreamt of living in England for years and, now that I've been living here for a year and a half, I find myself complaining about things just like I used to back in France. But there are times when I manage to sit back and contemplate where I come from, where I am, and how lucky and grateful I am to be here and living my dream.

    It's so easy for us to take things for granted.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Charlotte. Like you, I find it helpful to sit back and remember where I come from ... and how happy I would have been to know that I have the life that I do now!

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  15. Beautifully, beautifully expressed. Sometimes all we need is a minute to realise what we have - it's so easy to take it all for granted, so easy!

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    1. Thank you, Emma. I think we all need to take a minute, sometimes! I'm working on it. :)

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  16. I've only been in England for six months. But because when I first visited (almost seven years ago) I had stars in my eyes and a song in my heart, and now I'm older and considerably less starry-eyed, it's hard to feel the way I used to about this place. Luckily, I do have moments of extreme gratitude each day. Despite not everything in life being how I want it to be, there is still so much to appreciate, even if it's just how beautiful the outside looks through my living room window. You are absolutely right: concentrating on the things we want instead of the things we have (things other people who are worse off would kill for) is a bad habit to get into. It's easy to lose perspective (and only natural to get bored from time to time), but important to recognize when it happens so we can refocus on what matters :)

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