Monday, February 28, 2011

Entitled to Happiness

Something finally managed to kick my butt out of my self-pitying jag.

The other day I met a new friend via a new friend.  The two of them are here in Canada on a year-long work visa from Spain, and they got here roughly four months ago.  I asked the new-new friend how he was liking Canada so far and he told me very honestly that he doesn't like it here at all.

"It's too different," he told me, citing reasons such as the weather, the conservativeness of people, logistics, some of the difficulties they've faced up until this point, the lifestyle, the cost of living, the seeming impossibility of finding employment that would actually utilize their skills and background, among many other things.

And that cast a melancholic cloud over me for the rest of the night because, I've come to discover, I seem to take it kind of personally whenever people don't enjoy themselves in my hometown, even though I know that I have nothing to do with it.  During my postgrad studies, one of the three exchange students from Holland left after just a week here, and even though I'd barely spoken to her, I felt horrible about it; I felt almost like we failed as hosts to our guests.  So hearing at length about all the reasons why two foreigners hate life in Toronto was equally depressing, even though I miss Spain as much as they do.

But then as our conversation developed throughout the night, I found myself really liking these people and really, really wanting them to be happy here, despite the fact that I don't actually know them so well.  And as I shared my own experiences with them about living abroad, I actually learned a lot.

You see, I told them about how I wasn't thrilled about living in Nice, although I was enamoured with being in Europe and the glamour of living in a Mediterranean city.  I didn't have a good attitude at the time.  I'd lived away from home before, but the huge distance from my family and friends really threw me.  Additionally, Nice was a really small city to me and I'm a huge city girl, not to mention the fact that I was on such a tight budget that I was constantly terrified of running out of money (Nice is a very expensive place to live in).  I was really negative all the time, I complained about all the reasons why Nice was far inferior to Toronto, and I was basically living in Toronto via the Internet even though I was physically in Nice.

Now I'm starting to wonder if meeting these two guys is my karmic ass-kicking for all the bitching I did to my two best friends in France, who were locals. :P

But then when I got to go to Spain, I learned from my previous experience and knew I had to adjust my attitude.  This was probably also a result of having to work really, really hard for it - I went through hell and back trying to find an internship in the first place, trying to secure a contract amidst a ton of obstacles, trying to get a visa, and then working three jobs as I was finishing school to make enough money in four months to live on for six months.  So I was determined to have a good time, and I did, despite my hellish first month there. 

I explained to my new friends that you really have to keep an open mind when you live abroad because you CHOSE to be there, to put yourself in an unfamiliar situation and out of your own comfort zone.  You have to have infinite patience and to maintain a sense of humour.  You're in a new place because you WANTED to go there and you have to take responsibility for yourself and your own actions.  I was basically explaining Ben Curtis' brilliant Expat Manifesto to them, which I'm really glad I found before I moved to Spain.

I also explained a piece of knowledge I acquired through personal experience, which is that happiness isn't an entitlement.  Nobody's entitled to happiness.  It isn't a magical entity that just happens in life that everyone can or should expect.  It's also not really a right.  Sure, it comes more easily to some than others, but it's something that has to be worked for, that requires active searching to be found, that has to be nurtured and encouraged in order to grow.  And most importantly, it's everyone's responsibility towards themselves to make themselves happy, wherever they are, whatever they're doing, whatever is going on at the time.

So it was stupid of me to move to France and just expect everything to be perfect and then pout and bitch when things weren't, which is only normal.  I knew better when I moved to Spain, so even though I had really bad luck, lived with a sorry excuse of a human being for the first month, had half my rent deposit scammed from me, had a horrible second landlady, lived in a matchbox with no Internet, got totally ignored by someone I cared a lot about, I still worked hard at finding things and ways to make me happy, and I did, and I ended up having the experience of a lifetime.

I sincerely hope what I said didn't come off as a lecture or a sermon, but I think it somehow did kind of resonate with my new friends, and I really, really hope that they'll give Toronto another chance (especially since they're here for another five months at least), that they'll go out there to find things that they'll enjoy and to make themselves happy here, because despite the frigid winter, there are plenty of great things here to see, do and enjoy and many good experiences to be had.  And I hope they'll bring some wonderful memories back to Spain, that in the end they will think back fondly of their stay in Canada.

Meanwhile, I've stopped feeling sorry for myself for being home and I've reminded myself that I have to be repsonsible for finding my happiness here, too.  And I'm going to play my part as a friend and try to show them things and take them to places that they'd never get to experience in Spain. :)  Wish me luck?

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