The title of this article contains a huge irony.
It points directly at a glaring paradox.
The reason many of us move to our Panama tropical paradise is because:
We knew, in our hearts, that if only we lived in Paradise, we would automatically be happy 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Even our dreams would be perfect
(And best of all, we would remember them!).
Tropics = Happiness?
For our part, Betsy and I try to do everything we can to encourage people to take a deep breath, slow down, and not to rush the process.
We want to help potential Panama expats to make sure that theirs is not a rash, emotional reaction to just having finished a whirlwind tour of sandy beaches, luxury hotels, and afternoon cocktails all over Panama. Then climaxing in an impulsive decision to sign a purchase contract. And then find themselves suddenly living in Central America for the rest of their lives. Perhaps wishing that they had never left Cleveland, or Indianapolis, or Toronto.
There is nothing wrong with Central America, per se. In fact, there is a lot of good to be found in
- Waking up every morning to the sounds of tropical birds, howler monkeys, and the lapping of the ocean against the shore
- Living debt-free
- Eliminately huge monthly expenses from your life.
However, none of these “little perks” should be confused with HAPPINESS.
After all, we are not actually moving to the tropics for birdsongs, warm sands, and beautiful sunsets. Most of us, if only in our secret hearts, are moving here because we want to be HAPPY. Because without happiness, we have nothing.
For some people, what they find in Panama is the perfect recipe for them to pursue their ongoing happiness.
For others, a move to the tropics will prove to be isolating, disorienting, alienating, and ultimately tragic move.
However, in all fairness to the tropics, for some of these unhappy people, their own personal life trajectory was inclined toward unhappiness before they arrived in Panama. So tropical living cannot really be blamed. For people in that situation, finding themselves retired and living in an unfamiliar environment, only contributes to their isolation and negative mindset. Also, some expats’ loose interpretation of when the “cocktail hour” begins can greatly contribute to their ultimate state of unhappiness, all while living in Paradise.
Happiness and Gratitude
Happiness is something that every person on earth is interested in. However, happiness comes more easily for some, than for others.
I have generally been a pretty happy person. However, I have to admit, that I have always found it easier to be happy when things are running smoothly. I guess I am like a lot of other people in that I prefer to have things go my way. When that happen, it is easier for me to feel gratitude. I definitely notice that I get a “jolt” of happiness when I am grateful for something.
Gratitude is a sense that there is abundance, and that all is well with the world. It means that I am being taken care of, or at least regarded as being worthy of consideration.
A very simple example is seen in the following instance. I go to eat in a restaurant where the service and the food are excellent. I am very appreciative, so I feel inclined to leave a big tip for the waiter. I might even thank the owner of the restaurant personally. Asking them to thank the chef for a wonderful meal. I thoroughly enjoy the event. I feel HAPPY.
It seems pretty obvious to me that my state of happiness derives from my having received something I wanted, a good meal.
I think that most of us can relate with the notion of happiness deriving from our having received something that we wanted. We want something, We get it, We feel happy. And we are therefore grateful for our good fortune. This seems obvious.
However, there is a whole school of psychology which declares that we have it all backwards.
Positive Psychology posits that our happiness derives, in fact, not from having gotten something we wanted, but from the feeling of GRATITUDE that infuses our entire being for having gotten that “something” that we wanted.
Positive Psychology suggests that I don’t actually need to get anything that I want, in order to feel that magical “buzz”of gratitude. I can manufacture gratitude, right here at home, in my very own mind, and in my heart. Best of all, I can do this all the time.
According to positive psychology theory, the gratitude that I produce in my mind, artificially without the stimulus of having actually received anything tangible, is just as potent in triggering the happiness as the gratitude that arises from having received something tangible, and desirable. It can just be produced in our minds, by our own willpower. Of course, this willpower can be greatly enhanced, if we practice feeling grateful every day.
To see proof for this theory, we need only look around us. You see many people who appear to have everything that a human being could possibly desire, yet, these fortunate people are desperately unhappy. On the other hand, we know people who suffer great poverty, or terrible health, or family tragedy, and yet they are deeply happy. How do these happy people do it?
Simulated Happiness & Tropical Living
How, you might ask, does Simulated Happiness Theory relate to our decision to move to the tropics?
Well, it is not surprising that many of us who move to the tropics assume that by moving here, to our very own private piece of Paradise, we will experience far greater happiness than we could have by staying put in our previous location.
What is surprising is the number of people whose experience of life in Paradise falls far short of the life that they had envisioned, in terms of their overall happiness.
This happens primarily because these people have the happiness/gratitude connection reversed. They are caught in the false model of happiness that says that when everything finally begins to go their way (as it should), they will then, and only then begin to feel happy and grateful.
Those of us who have discovered the technique to cultivating our own happiness, realize that we might have waited many lifetimes for happiness to suddenly arrive on its own.
Happiness Takes Effort
Once we realize that happiness is not an end result, but an ongoing effort, we are able to control our own happiness. It is not up to the specific ups and downs of our day.
Believe me, even here in Paradise, days have their inevitable ups and downs. But my happiness does not have to gyrate up and down like a yo-yo, depending upon what is going on in my day.
Happiness, like any worthwhile goal, requires effort.
Surely one would not expect to learn to speak Spanish just by waiting for Spanish language fluency to spontaneously arrive in your brain. It is the same with learning a musical instrument, or learning to meditate.
If we invest as little as 15 minutes every morning in practicing gratitude, we will very quickly begin to feel happier.
If you haven’t tried this, you will be amazed. This good feeling just grows, the more we practice. It doesn’t go away with the arrival of illness, or the death of a loved one. It doesn’t go up and down with the stock market. If we practice cultivating feelings of gratitude, every day, for 15 minutes, we feel much, much happier.
This practice does not require moving to Panama; You can do it right there in New York, or Seattle, or Detroit.
If you wake up in the morning and express your “thanks” to God, or whatever your higher power might be, for the mere fact that you are alive for another 24 hours with all its joy, sorrow, sunshine, and rain, then you are off to a good start to experience a day filled with Happiness.
Panamanian Secret To Happiness
One thing you will notice in Panama is the number of locals who, when asked “how’s it going?, will respond,
“Very well, thanks to God” (Muy bien, grasias a Dios).
For years, I just let the significance of this seemingly perfunctory response go right by me. It was just what Panamanians said, because of their Catholic/Christian background. It did not apply to me.
However, as I have delved deeper into my practice of gratitude, I have discovered that I also wanted to join in the group who gives thanks to God every time I am asked “How’s it going?”.
Now I say, “Muy bien, grasias a Dios” too. (Very well, thanks to God).
Just by speaking those words, I feel much better. If I were having a less than perfect moment in my mind, these simple words set me straight right away.
It doesn’t matter that my precise interpretation of God may be different from someone else’s. What matters is that I am taking this opportunity to vocalize my gratitude for all that I have today. I have a lot to be thankful for .
Mostly, my days are wonderful. I have my health. I have my wife Betsy. I have my children, Skylar and Blaise. Oh yeah; I almost forgot the least important item on my gratitude list; and I live here in Paradise.
What could I possibly have to complain about? The answer: Nothing.
As long as I don’t go searching for something to feel bad about. If I continue to look for and to focus on the good things in my life, and remember to practice GRATITUDE every day, my days are generally excellent!
Thanks for reading.