Find Happiness in a New City: 3 Secrets

Find Happiness in a New City: 3 Secrets

After a month and a half of “real life” in Auckland, New Zealand, I’m finally starting to feel settled and find my groove but it wasn’t not easy.  I’ve met others who have been for years and still doesn’t feel completely adjusted.  Whether you’ve moved to a new country or just relocated to a distant new city, you’re never going to have as much history as in your hometown.  And it’s always hard to be away from friends and family, especially if they still reunite regularly.

When I first got here, I struggled, which might have been obvious when I wrote this post.  A couple weeks ago, I started to appreciate New Zealand more and, thanks to a change in attitude, I’ve continued to embrace this place.  Although I’m by no means an expert, here’s three secrets that have helped me find happiness in a new city, with specific suggestions for ex-pats in Auckland, New Zealand.  Well, maybe they aren’t secrets, but sometimes simple suggestions can be effective!

Trekking Te Henga walkway... supposedly one of Auckland's best walks

Trekking Te Henga walkway with coworkers… supposedly one of Auckland’s best walks

1) View Each Day As An Adventure

When you are living in a new city, it’s the best of both worlds… the adventure of traveling and the financial stability of working… unfortunately, a lot of people get wrapped up into new jobs, new responsibilities and new habits that they forget to take advantage of the fun parts of being in a new habitat.  Or they think they have time to explore so they postpone doing it.  I recently read an article from CNN  18 things we love on vacation but hate back home that playfully exemplifies how different people react differently on vacation than at home.

“When we travel, we become children again — every experience is box-fresh with a new-car smell.

Public transportation?
A magic train ride to awesome.
Grocery stores?
An Aladdin’s cave of unfamiliar vegetables and hilarious brand names.
Back home, we have our security filters on high alert.
That friendly stranger must be a lecher, lunatic or bore.
A carnival parade is a sequined traffic disruption and street performers are bell-ringing pariahs.
But on vacation, we let ourselves be open.
We’ll taste that testicle souffle, we’ll sample that snake-venom liqueur.
And when our stomachs rebel later that night, we’ll still be glad we tried.”

When things go wrong traveling, you’re more likely to view it as part of the adventure, and laugh off bad experiences as a good story to tell back home.  When you run into similar situations in “real life”, it can ruin your whole day (for example, the spontaneous parade that delay your trip to the beach or the random person talking to you on the metro, ruining your nap).  Things aren’t always going to go smoothly when you’re in a place with different cultural norms, values and tradition.  You can often respond by laughing or crying.  Although crying can be tempting when you’re stressed and struggling to adjust, adopt the traveler’s reaction, giggle then share your “crazy story” with your friends back home.

One thing that's hard to adjust to in Auckland is the rapidly changing weather- our trek got really wet and muddy at one point. But all you need is an umbrella and a good attitude!

One lesson to learn in Auckland is to always bring rain gear!  An Italian even came equipped with a hiking umbrella!

This weekend, 9 of my physics co-workers and I decided to hike one of Auckland’s most beautiful tracks, the 10.3 km Te Henga walkway.  The forecast looked beautiful, the sky looked beautiful when we left Auckland but as soon as we got far enough into the trek not to turn back, it started raining hard.  Before we knew it, all of us were drenched and spent the next couple hours slip, sliding through the mud.  Some of the people who lived in Auckland to anticipate finicky weather were prepared, and the Italian even bust out an umbrella, but I got soaked to the skin.  But, we all had a good laugh, and it brought back memories of mud sliding through Sapa, Vietnam.

My French friend took this lesson a step further.  He was tired of getting blasted by the wind and soaked by the rain during his bicycle commute to work so he decided to use the wind to his advantage.  Now wind surfing is his new favorite hobby and it makes him appreciate less-than-ideal weather.

In addition to adapting a traveler’s attitude toward mishaps, go exploring!  Immerse yourself in the new culture, recreation like the locals do, try the regional cuisine.  The Internet is great for creating “little bucket lists” to consult when you’ve got a free weekend and nothing to do.  Instead of being depressed about your lack of immediate best friends, maybe you’ll meet one if you do something from 16 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do In Auckland, The Ultimate New Zealand Bucket List or 50 Things You Should Have Done if You Live in Auckland.

Trying hokey pokey ice cream at Giapo (one of the items on Auckland bucket list). Hokey pokey is supposedly a regional flavor.

Trying hokey pokey (regional specialty!) ice cream at Giapo (one of the items on Auckland bucket list).

2) Adapt to Your New Surroundings

If you’re going to settle in to a new city, you’re going to have to adjust some of your expectations and behaviors to blend in because the city isn’t going to change just because you arrived.  This was my main problem, being raised in the fast-paced and competitive Northeast United States made me frustrated with the slower pace of New Zealand.   While I initially condemned this as laziness and lack of motivation, I grew to appreciate the less consumerist culture and prioritizing work-life balance over fancy cars and ridiculously huge houses.  Although Auckland will never fit my definition of the perfect city, once I fully committed to living here (even though it didn’t fit my “preferences” for an ideal city), that openness helped me participate more fully in this life.  Starting each day here with a positive (instead of antagonistic) attitude made everything easier, including making friends.

Enjoying my extra-long Kiwi Easter in Whananaki

Enjoying my extra-long Kiwi Easter in Whananaki

In contrast, I have a British friend here who has been here a year and still hasn’t adjusted.  He’s working on his PhD and training world-class athletes and purposefully wants to retain his UK work ethic.  He gets frustrated that “Kiwis are so nice, they want people to feel good all the time.  They don’t understand that there are winners and losers.  And when you’re trying to produce competitive athletes, you need to be tough!”.  He doesn’t like that you need an access card to get into his office after 5 PM (because everyone leaves “early”) and that everyone took off for a long holiday when they should be preparing for the upcoming Olympics in Brazil.  So he stubbornly stayed in Auckland over Easter “to work” even though he couldn’t accomplish much when everyone napped on beaches and hunted Easter eggs.  He was frustrated because it was hard to be productive under the circumstances, plus everyone had fun when he was home alone.  An extra-long holiday… come on, sometimes, it’s not worth fighting these things!

“…I had thought joy to be rather synonymous with happiness but it seems now to be far less vulnerable than happiness.  Joy seems to be part of an unconditional wish to live, not holding back because life may not meet our preferences and expectations.  Joy seems to be a function of the willingness to accept the whole, and to show up to meet with whatever is there

The willingness to win or lose moves us out of an adversarial relationship to life and into a powerful kind of openness. From such a position we can make a greater commitment to life.  Not only pleasant life, comfortable life, or our idea of life, but all life.  Joy seems more closely to aliveness than happiness.
There is a fundamental paradox here.  The less we are attached to life, the more alive we can become.  The less we have preferences about life, the more deeply we can experience and participate in life.  This is not to say that I don’t prefer raisin toast to blueberry muffins.  It is to say that I don’t prefer raisin toast so much that I am unwilling to get out of bed unless I can have raisin toast or the absence of raisin toast ruins the whole day.  Embracing life may be about more than tasting whether it is raisin toast or blueberry muffins.  More about trusting one’s ability to take joy in the newness of the day and what it may bring.  More about adventure than having your own way” -Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal by Rachel Naomi Remen

That being said, while it’s important to blend in a bit to make friends and adjust to your new environment, it’s still important to remember where you came from.  And be sure to resurrect those traditions if they make you feel better.  For example, celebrate Thanksgiving, invite a Kiwi and freak them out with marshmallow-topped sweet potato (kumura)!

"Easter family" of couch surfers for a weekend in Whananaki, New Zealand

“Easter family” of couch surfers for a weekend in Whananaki, New Zealand

3) Harness The Power of The Internet to Connect with People

Thanks to the Internet, your loved ones aren’t far away and it’s easy to keep in touch.  While it’s important to stay connected to people you’ve known for years, it can help you connect with similarly minded individuals in your new home.  Some of my biggest tools in Auckland so far are:

1) Facebook groups

  • Couchsurfing Auckland– general group to connect with (usually) adventurous, well traveled individuals for a variety of reasons- traveling together, language exchange, living arrangements, advice…
  • Free Events Auckland– ideas for things to do and you can potentially connect with other people interested in going
  • Backpacking New Zealand– mostly if you’re interested in traveling New Zealand and looking for ride shares, camper van shares and travel buddies

2) Meet-up

This is a great place for general social events (ex. drinks with ex-pats, young professionals…) or specific hobbies (ex. tramping, salsa dancing…).  I haven’t gone to too many of these events yet but they’re popular and there’s lots of options.  As with many of these “open invitation” things, you can’t control who shows up, which means you might run into some socially awkward people.  But that’s part of the fun!

3) Tinder

The famous, free swipe app claims to help people find “friends, dates, relationships and everything in between”.  I tried it briefly and although I wrote in my profile “I’m new here and looking for adventure buddies”, with it being based primarily on appearance,  some people had different expectations so I stopped.  But it works for a lot of people.

Cows and beaches... only in NZ! Whananaki, New Zealand

Cows and beaches… only in NZ! Whananaki, New Zealand

The Internet also helps you find places to do your hobby and meet people the old fashioned way!  I’ve made friends through boxing and enjoy seeing familiar faces at yoga and the gym.

In Closing

Making a new home in an unfamiliar location isn’t trivial and it takes time.  I consider myself a very adaptable person who enjoys spending time in new cities.  Visiting is different than living and adjusting to Auckland was tougher than I anticipated.  Talking to ex-pats who have been here longer, it’s clear the process of “settling in” will never be perfectly complete.  Even my friend who has lived here for 8 years, loves it and plans to live here for the rest of her life says she spends a month each year feeling like a “misfit” spending holidays with “convenience friends”, feeling increasingly distant from the people she grew up with.  Adjusting to a new city, especially a new country is not easy, but embracing your new life and finding happiness in a new city is worth the effort.  I hope these tips can help.

Song of the Moment: Brand New Life– Panama Wedding & 4x4Ever by Morgan Dorr

Book of the Moment: This is Where I Am by Karen Campbell

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1 Comment

  1. Jimmy
    Jun 2, 2016

    Glad you continuing to adjust and have found joy in a slower pace of life!


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