I can’t believe I’ve lived in China for almost five months. It feels like I’ve been in China much longer than that because of all the experiences I’ve had. Living abroad grows you in every aspect of life. When you are outside your comfort zone in a country with a different language and culture, away from everything familiar to you, you have to adapt. Adapting causes personal, social, even professional growth. I don’t feel like the same person I was five months ago. Five months ago, I thought that cheese, hardcover books, and cleanliness were essential for me to be happy. Now I know that isn’t true.
People tend to think that your circumstances in life will determine whether or not you will be satisfied or happy. But living in China has taught me that happiness is not dependent on material possessions or if your life goes according to plan. Happiness is dependent on your mindset. We don’t need everything we think we do to have a fulfilling life. Needs versus wants are often confused in western culture. I want more time to spend with friends and family, I want more decorations for my apartment, and I want more books to add to my growing library. These wants do not decide if I’m pleased with my life—I do. I have the ability to decide if I will be content with what I have. It’s perfectly fine to have wants, but sometimes wants can grow into greed, envy, and never being satisfied.
China has given me gratitude for everything I have. Things I used to think were basic needs, I now consider myself privileged if I get them. Clean air is an amazing luxury, just like drinkable water, western toilets, traffic laws, and my favorite food—cheese. There are some days where the pollution hurts my throat, water doesn’t come out of my faucets, and I am desperate for American food. These living situations don’t change how much I love China. I know I am lucky to live here and have these unique experiences.
Because I live in China I get to have an expat family in addition to my American family. Because I live in China I get to see the most beautiful historical buildings like the Great Wall of China and the Temple of Heaven. There are some wants that I have given up to live in China; it has been well worth it. Instead of being caught up in consumerism and possessions, I choose to live minimally. I use my free time to play games with my foreign and Chinese friends, to study Chinese, and to experience new foods and places. Having less has made me much happier.
It took me to moving to China to learn how to be truly grateful for what I have and how to be happy without having what I thought of then as my “life necessities.” January is the perfect time for reflection on what experiences have grown you personally. How have you grown personally this past year? Do you have things you think you can’t live without? What are some ways you choose to be happy?