WHAT IS CONTENTMENT, ANYWAY?
More than excitement, most of us are looking for peace of mind and contentment. You don’t get those from having an amazing view, or from owning a lot of things. Many people who retire abroad, and purchase a house overlooking the ocean, want to sell that same house six months later. An ocean view does not bring contentment.
In the developed world, advertisers are always stressing the benefit of convenience offered by their products. The implied chain of causality guesses that somehow convenience will lead to more free time which will then lead to contentment. Don’t buy it; it’s not true. We’re not hungry for convenience, but we’re starving for meaning.
Meaning comes from real connections with other humans. If you’re sitting in your new house in a foreign clime, perched on a cliff overlooking a dramatic view and you have no local friends, you’re going to be one lonely person staring at a scene that long ago ceased to thrill you. For you to feel at home, there’s work to be done: overcoming language barriers, making an effort to know and be known, and all of that is sometimes inconvenient.
Of course, all this is easier if there is a substantial expatriate community with whom you can mix. But still, if your only friends are other expats, and you simply ignore the local populace, life will not be as rich as it was back where you came from. You may be comparatively richer because of the relative strength of the dollar, but if you don’t embrace the locals your life will be poorer.
So how do you rub shoulders with people who don’t speak English? You could teach English, even as a volunteer. You can simply visit with kids at an orphanage. Poor countries have huge orphanages. A few blocks from our house here in Chiang Mai, there is a health food restaurant that gets its food from an organic farm. They could always use a few extra hands on a working farm.
But no one will come knocking on your door. Here, in my adopted country, my phone rarely rings, and I don’t receive mail. The postman brings me my water and electric bills, and that’s it. Facebook and email are my lifelines to the outside world. I like to make fun of Facebook as much as anyone, but being a world apart from family and most of my friends, Facebook seems darn important to me.