3 Pieces of Advice the Dalai Lama Would Give to be a Happy Expat

Portrait of Buddha

I don’t really know the 3 pieces of advice the Dalai Lama would give to expats, but as a student of Tibetan Buddhism and of the Dalai Lama, I’ve heard him teach enough times to hazard an educated guess. So here goes:

  1. Do a kindness for someone else.

The Dalai Lama always says that if you’re feeling sad, overwhelmed, lonely, or experiencing any other negative emotion the best thing to do is to do something for someone else. And it’s fine to have the selfish motive of wanting to make yourself feel better.

When I first encountered this teaching, I thought that it was far-fetched. How could I possibly think of someone else when I was up to my eyeballs in my own drama? But as I took this advice to heart and tried it out, I was amazed to find that it actually worked!

As an expat, most recently in India, the negative emotions I most frequently encountered were frustration with nothing working or getting done on time, loneliness when friends left or when I left, and overwhelm with all I had to do just living and working in India. When I was able to turn my attention to helping someone else as these times, the negative emotions would disappear as if by magic.

  1. Use patience as the antidote for anger.

The Dalai Lama says that most people think the antidote to anger is love but that this isn’t actually so. He advises that the next time you’re feeling angry with someone to adopt a patient attitude and see what happens. This is another one of his teachings that I couldn’t imagine being true until I tried it. When I did, the anger almost immediately dissolved.

As expats living in a foreign (by this I mean different) culture there are many ways in which anger arises. I’m sure you could name a handful off the top of your head. I have frequently become angry with taxi drivers who I often felt were taking unfair advantage of me.

One time when this happened I listened patiently, trying to understand the driver’s point of view, then explained why I felt it was unfair. The situation resolved itself, and neither one of us had to carry our anger around for the rest of the day. I know this won’t always work, but just to be able to dissipate anger can feel like a huge burden had been lifted.

  1. Stay focused in the present.

The Dalai Lama teaches that the majority of our challenges are caused by the nature of our thoughts and that we believe these thoughts to be true, rather than the external events of our lives.  Most of us spend an inordinate amount of the day lost in thought, never questioning this or even thinking there is something wrong with being off in our minds.

There are a couple of problems with this. One, when you’re off in thought, no matter how important the thoughts seem to be, you sacrifice being fully in the present. You’re actually missing out in what’s going on around you, namely, life!

Another problem is that most of our thoughts seem to be negative; you could label them as worrying. This negativity has an effect on your body and mind.   The body responds as if the negative imagining is actually happening, with all the same stress responses that the actual event would elicit.  This brings about increased negativity and it becomes a vicious circle that is hard to break out of.

As an expat you’re actually ahead of the game on this one. Being in a foreign country demands that you function on alert, as opposed to autopilot, especially at the beginning of your time in a new culture.

There are so many new sensory experiences and so much to be aware of, that it can be easier to stay in the present than when you’re familiar with everything that’s going on. When you’re learning a new language, for example, you have to really listen, as opposed to listening with half an ear.

The benefits of being present are increased focus of attention, a sense of calm, and quelling all the chatter going on in your mind. When you’re living abroad, there’s much to be said for joie de vivre!













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