7 Habits of a Happy Expat

Margarita Gokun Silver's picture

Have you ever thought of what makes some expatriates happy and others not really?  After coaching many expatriate clients I came to realize that there are 7 factors that can impact the happiness level of an expat. I compiled those together and organized them into THE WINNING SEVEN™: 7 HABITS OF A HAPPY EXPAT:

7 Habits of a Happy Expat

1.  Happy expats are intensely curious.

Coming to another country is fascinating.  You can learn about a different culture, you can experience a different way of life, you can try new foods, and perhaps even new sports and new hobbies.  A whole new world is available to you.  Being curious around this new world leads to happiness.

2.  Happy expats accept other people as they come -- they don’t judge.

Things may bother you, you may disagree – but know that a judgmental attitude will never get you anywhere.  Accepting that people are different is your key to happiness.

3.  Happy expats look at everything as an amazing learning experience.

There is a saying “life is always offering us new beginnings, it’s up to us whether to take them or not.”  That’s a very empowering way to look at what’s available to us at every moment of every day.  And especially to those of us who get an opportunity to not only travel but also live in different places.

4.  Happy expats find opportunities wherever they are and they don’t lament those they’ve left behind. 

Life of an expat consists of one move after another.  Sometimes we know when that move is coming and sometimes we don’t.  Opportunities that were open to us in one place are probably not available in another.  But “life is always offering us new beginnings…” and so we can be assured that there will be new opportunities.  Do you want to spend the time lamenting about what you left behind or do you want to spend the time listening and looking out for what’s opening up for you?

5.  Happy expats know that feeling sad at times is part of the game.

A happy expatriate doesn’t mean a giddy-at-all-times expatriate.  A happy expat means also an expat who knows that being sad sometimes is part of the expatriate experience.  Being sad about leaving your friends behind; being sad about your family being far away; being sad about quitting a job, etc, etc, etc.  The difference between a happy expat and an expat who isn't happy is that for the former the sadness is something that’s natural and something that doesn’t take over his/her life and creates a victim out of him/her.

6.  Happy expats share. Sharing means many different things. 

It means sharing with your friends and family when you are sad – going through the stressful times alone is no fun.  It means sharing with a coach – a right client-coach partnership will make your expat experience richer.  It also means sharing your experience with others, helping those like you find the best facets of their expatriate journeys.

7.  Happy expats stay clear of criticism, sulking, and stonewalling. 

It is very easy to blame someone else in your troubles.  It’s easy to say that everything around you is horrible; it’s easy to sulk in your misery when you’ve convinced yourself that it’s not up to you; and it’s easy to put a barrier between you and the place you live in.  Yet there is no way you are going to be happy where you live, if you consistently engage in criticism, sulking, and stonewalling.  Staying clear of those attitudes will help you be happier.


Margarita Gokun Silver is a writer and an artist. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, BBC, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and NPR, among others. Her essay collection I NAMED MY DOG PUSHKIN (AND OTHER IMMIGRANT TALES) is available on Amazon (https://buff.ly/39AsHhL) or wherever books are sold.


note: this article was originally published in 2010 and updated in 2017