Christmas Alone in the City of Lights

It is getting near that time of year. The lights are up but not yet turned on. Decorations are spanning the width and length of the avenues, silently waiting to glow and light the cold wintery nights. It can’t be far away now. Your thoughts turn to your usual habits with loved ones, food, presents and other traditions you follow at this special time of year called Christmas. 

 If this is the first time you are away from home at this time of year, you quickly realise there are some significant differences to the celebration of Christmas. I am sure if you look closely you will also find some similarities no matter what culture you are from.  

While you may be dipped into a bout of homesickness there is a little sugar to be had to help you through the jolly season. Acknowledge your homesickness, loneliness, lack of good cheer at times and let significant others know so they can support you through the season. This new location for Christmas may just be a perfect holiday from having to partake in the routine obligatory traditions that you love and loath all at the same time. 

Remain open to new experiences of Christmas traditions. Research, talk to your friends, find out all information possible to learn the common thread of Christmas traditions for the French.  If you prefer to not leave behind all your own long held traditions you may even be able to blend a little of both cultures creating a unique Christmas of your own.  

Organise to spend Christmas with new-found friends or if you are still very new to the country, look to your closest city for expatriate groups. There are often many organising lunches and dinners for expats to celebrate together. The main point here is do not spend Christmas alone. Take action now and make plans to spend Christmas with people. 

It will help to feel close with your loved ones if you can share some of the Christmas celebrations with them. The internet is a great tool for keeping in touch – with ‘live’ video and audio software available. If time difference allows you could sit through some of the festivities with them using the video-audio software of your choice. You will then be able to watch, talk and share the experience. Bittersweet it may be, but it will mean you won’t miss out altogether. 

Christmas is one of the times of year, where it is best to take extra notice of your health. The warnings for your physical health may very well be well entrenched. The warning here is, be mindful of your psychological health as well. A time when you are normally with loved ones to then find yourself alone can be challenging. Acknowledgement of its challenges and creation of plans for the season will help support you through what may be a very rewarding life growth experience this Christmas.

New Year Reflections

The new calendar year approaches, the television, radio and social media are intent on not letting the end of the year pass without a grand farewell. What were your thoughts as 2013 was drawing to a close?  Were you celebrating the end of the year or rejoicing in the new beginning and making plans for 2014? I wonder how much time you spend reflecting on your own personal year?  How have you managed, changed and been influenced by the shaping forces of living in a new culture? New Year celebrations are often marked by the setting of new goals and resolutions, without giving the year that has passed time for reflection and consolidation. 

But some of the many benefits of Reflection are: 

 ∼ Remember and re-experience and give you deeper meaning to your successes and learning, giving you even more reason to celebrate  

∼ Discover or rediscover your strengths and other reasons for your success 

∼ To understand the how and why of your emotional reactions to events and people and how that may have impacted on others 

∼ Help you become the leader of your life, rather than leaning on others for direction 

∼ Increase your confidence, resilience, motivation, and engage in higher more complex levels of cognition. Another way of saying, reflection helps you to be mentally and emotionally stronger, smarter and wiser 

∼ Learn what your weaknesses and mistakes were and how you can overcome and learn from them 

∼ Allow you to acknowledge the goals you set and completed and to recognize those that changed form along the way 

∼ To get to know or remind yourself of your values, and to evaluate if you are living a life in harmony with your values 

∼ To put your life into perspective 

∼ Create new ideas, move beyond obstacles and help set new goals 

Reflection can take many forms and can occur anywhere. Walking in the forest is my favourite reflective activity.  It is where I normally clear the cobwebs of my mind, find clarity of thought and creative responses to difficult situations. 

Writing is another very good activity of reflective thought. Be it only this once, at the passing of a year and the beginnings of a new one, or the small task of daily reflection kept in a diary.  

A daily reflection diary date requires some practice to make it habitual. Set a time of day for this to occur, for example after your nightly shower or bath. Spend 5 to 10 minutes writing your thoughts about events of the day.  You can increase the time you spend writing as you become more comfortable, in fact you may enjoy the task so much the length of time increases without you having to try.  

Talking is another very good method of reflection. Seek the ears of a friend or counsellor, someone who is a good listener, who is able to reflect back to you your thoughts and feelings, to help guide you to greater self-understanding.  

Finding your preferred methods of reflection can be fun and with practice will build strong reflective habits. This in turn, will help you to grow and move forward with clarity of what has passed and greater purpose into the new year.

Kindness In The City

Paris is a delightfully beautiful city, it can however also be an astonishingly  challenging city, everyone seemingly going about their business with no regard of others or their call of need. I have heard and read many a story where people have been in need of help and found the people of the city wanting. The lack of concern and kindly help by society can be disheartening and, at times, frightening.  

Positive psychology research tells us that acts of kindness are good for our and others overall well-being. Psychologist and researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky undertook a study in which participants performed regular, random acts of kindness.  Interestingly even though participants were instructed to undertake random acts of kindness, their happiness scores rose indicating a strong relationship between random acts of kindness and happiness.  

A working example of the positive effects of acts of kindness is illustrated in a conversation I recently had with an expatriate lady.  For the sake of this article her name is Laura. Laura had hoped her helping would be returned to her, either directly or indirectly. She hoped it would help her form healthy bonds with others and help her settle in her new country. Laura is now returning to her home country and upon reflection of the role her helping has had, she feels helping has increased her self-worth and given her life greater purpose. Laura spoke of receiving great pleasure through giving others joy by helping them. She found herself experiencing a sense of connectedness to society; friendships were formed, helping her to adjust to the new country and she experienced satisfaction in her daily life.  

Some ideas for random acts of kindness: 

∼ Use your manners – thank the person who opens the door 

∼ Be thoughtful – offer the elderly your seat, pay an extra large tip 

∼ Give compliments generously – let the baker know the “baguette” was delicious even if his business appears to be prospering 

∼ Be conscious of those who may be lonely – say “hello”, enquire how they are 

∼ Help your community – volunteer at an organisation 

∼ Answer a call for help – always respond even if you cannot help 

∼ Expect nothing in return for your acts of kindness – savour the joy of having helped 

In this city, which at times may feel like a hostile, lonesome world, take a moment to help yourself and others by making random acts of kindness a daily exercise, in addition to creating or getting involved in an organisation to help the broader community. 

Random acts of kindness are infectious and reciprocal in effect and affect. They help to create “kindness – aware” communities. What random act of kindness did you partake in today? 

The Better Self

What would your better self look like? Would it be much different to how you see yourself now? 

Life is a journey of experiences that help form our opinions, actions and reactions. It can often happen that these experiences create who we are without leaving the time to reflect and learn the lessons that are there for the taking. We just keep jumping from one life experience, one hurdle, however beautiful or ugly, to another.  The ugly hurdle has us wondering when it will all end, what life is all about. The beautiful can pass us by so quickly.   

Again the question pervades; what would your better self look like? 

The new calendar year has come and gone. The resolutions you made are partially achieved or forgotten in the hurriedness of life. Yet here we are at another “New Year” juncture:  the end of the European school year. The summer break is upon us, with September approaching fast where all daily life activities will be renewed with zest.  

Yet still this question begs to be answered; what would your better self look like? 

What lessons have you learnt over the past 6 months? How far have you come with your New Year’s resolutions? Are they still relevant in their current form? 

The summer break is a great time to enjoy the moment, relax and rejuvenate. It is also a great time to give thought to what it would take to be the “Best You” come 2014-2015. What are your strengths? How will you cultivate these strengths to be your better self and live a valued life – your valued life?  

It is all too easy when contemplating change to think that it is insurmountable. Yet it is the very small things that can have the greatest impact on you and how you live your life and move towards your envisioned “Better Self”. 

Could it be you wish to spend more time with your partner during the evening or take up a long-desired hobby? Where can you find the time? An easy time-wasting activity, though very often a necessary activity, are emails and social media. It is all too easy to spend many an hour browsing social media, checking and rechecking emails several times a day.  

We all wish for more time in our day. If you were to check your emails just one time per day for say half an hour to an hour (depending on how busy your email life is), how much more time would you have for other activities that are important to you? Or, perhaps it would be more useful to check into social media just once or twice a day for a set period of time.  

Give it ago.  Have a look. What small changes can you make in your daily life to help you move towards your “Better Self”?

Emotional States & The Good Life

New research from the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology in Glasgow postulates there are 4 primary emotional states: happiness, anger, sadness and fear from which more complex emotions are derived. It is these four primary emotional states that envelope and motivate us or provide caution. Just as nutritionists recommend that a well-balanced diet in moderate quantities from all 5 primary food groups is essential to good physical health, so experience of the four primary emotional states, in moderation, is essential to psychological well-being.

The emotional states of happiness, anger, sadness and fear are fundamentally a tool to help guide thought and behaviour and influence social connections. Below is a concise explanation of the functions of each emotion.

Fear: 'fight or flight' reaction. Fear warns you to be more cautious, to give more analysis to a situation before acting.

Anger: to signal something needs your attention and to communicate your thoughts and feelings when required to rectify a problem either with yourself or others.

Sadness: lets you know you have lost something of value. It is the signal that you need to take time to process your thoughts around the loss and not rush through life without due processing of loss.

Happiness: well, happiness is the feel-good emotion. The more happiness experienced, the greater the buffer against negative emotions occurring in unhealthy quantities. It is clear happiness is something to strive for and there are many pathways to happiness, yet don’t make happiness the goal, but rather the process to 'well-being', 'life satisfaction' and 'living the good life'.

Expatriate Life – New Beginnings

A Wonderous Yet Difficult Time.

You’ve finally arrived in Paris, and have a new home. You smile with delight when you first spot the Eiffel Tower twinkling at night. You are full of desire of exploration and wonderment at this beautiful new home town – Paris! The honeymoon phase of living in Paris begins.

Relocating to another country and culture can be exciting and daunting all at once. It is even more stress invoking if the new country uses a language you do not know. Depending on the circumstances of your move, typically there will be a honeymoon phase. This is a time of great delight, motivation to learn the language and enthusiasm to see and experience all of what there is.

Paris, also called ‘The City of Light’, and well known as the city of love, magical beauty and baguettes while bustling with a quiet energy ready for you to explore, can at some point become dull, grey, lonely and a chore!

Yes, you are now feeling unhappy, low, insecure, and not sure what is right or wrong. The long dark days, or even bright long days, takes its toll and you find yourself having trouble creating and maintaining a rhythm of daily life - the “honeymoon” phase is finished. You have landed in the face of French bureaucracy, not enough language skills and perhaps no French speaking friends at hand to help you out. Thankfully for many, there are relocation companies employed to help you wade through the initial challenges of finding and securing a new home and the myriad of paperwork that comes with it. But, for many others they begin alone.

For most, living and/or working in a new culture requires a period of adjustment. One may experience frustration and the humbling experience of not being able to express ones’ self as freely and fluently as in your native language. It is common to feel irritated and misunderstood, or just out of place as you move around the intricacies of social norms not yet known. At times one may experience periods of intense introspection that may lead some to question where they fit into this new culture. All the while your usual social supports are far away in a land not forgotten.

It may be you experience parts of your personality not so welcome or that just don’t fit your new city, At the same time, you may find other parts of yourself are awoken. Perhaps you just yearn to experience parts of yourself not yet explored.

A new location will have you question many things about yourself and test all relationships both near and far. Confusion, low moods, uncertainty of self and lack of confidence can soon hinder you.  You may have noticed your family members seem different. Yet, in their own way they are experiencing the challenges of the change and are also trying to put the pieces together.

It is important that these experiences are processed and understood to help you experience greater confidence and find direction in your new world. You are on an exciting journey with a great opportunity for new experiences, new goals, to learn more about yourself and a new culture and language.