There are many ways to be happy as a digital nomad and there are almost as many ways to make yourself miserable. Now, there’s a good book in “how to be happy as a digital nomad” and one day, we might write it but for now, we’ve got something simpler for you.
We’ve done two things for you – firstly, we’ve put happiness in context and secondly, we’ve got some (science-backed) tips for making yourself happier wherever you are today and whatever is going on in your life.
3 Hard Truths About Happiness For Digital Nomads
This is an area I find fascinating and I’ve done a lot of reading on happiness. It’s fair to say that the “science” of happiness is relatively new and a lot of the conclusions that have been made may be overturned. So, I’ve tried to stick to some obvious points for this section:
No-one Is Happy All The Time
The only place that people are happy all day, every day is in a bad TV comedy series. Real-life doesn’t work like that. You’re going to have good days and you’re going to have bad days. Everyone does.
Before you start worrying about your happiness – you ought to ask yourself, “Is this a natural moment to be sad?”
It’s normal to be sad if you’ve just quit your job, just broken up with a girlfriend, not been out for a few days, lost a relative, etc.
If you think you have to be 100% positive all of the time, you’ve been reading too many American self-help books, stop it and go outside and have fun instead.
We All Have Different Base Levels Of Happiness
Some people are naturally happier than others. This appears to be a fact. That doesn’t mean, however, that the people who aren’t happy are by default “unhappy”.
There is a neutral state of not happy and not sad. Large numbers of people spend much of their lives in this territory.
We all also seem to have different maximum levels of happiness too. However, I’d argue that this may simply be the difference in contrast between our base level and our final level of happiness.
Let’s take a situation that might happen to a digital nomad. You arrive at an airport and check-in and when the person at the counter sees your passport, they offer you a free upgrade to business class.
Someone who is always fairly happy is going to be happier when they get this upgrade. They may go from say a 7 on the happiness scale to a 9 (out of 10).
Somebody who is more neutral goes from a 4 to the same 9.
They’ve both reached the same level of happiness but… the second person is going to feel a lot happier than they were. Thus, they perceive their maximum happiness to be greater than the first person’s even though they are the same.
I hope that makes sense. If not, let me know and I’ll add more examples.
Travel Doesn’t Make You Happy
Sorry, but travel in and of itself is not a magical happy pill. Not even for a digital nomad.
There seems to be an impression that you can run away from the things that make you unhappy in life. That’s not how it works.
The truth is that there’s only one person responsible for your general happiness and that’s you. Wherever you run away to – you’re still going to be there.
Many of the problems we have at home are exactly the same when we are elsewhere.
If you’re not good at making friends in your hometown, for example, it may well be that you still suck at making friends in Prague or Montevideo. If you focused on learning to make friends (it is a skill you can learn) rather than travel – you’d probably be happier in the long-term.
You also gain a new problem for every issue that you leave behind. Putting out the trash each week is replaced by filling in immigration paperwork all the time.
This is not to say that you can’t be happy and travel, of course, you can. It’s just to say that travel doesn’t fix the things that are wrong.
It is worth remembering, however, that traveling too fast can make you very unhappy as a digital nomad. If you don’t give yourself time to work and have fun and rest – you will burn out eventually.
10 Ways To Be Happy As A Digital Nomad
We offer no magical cures in this section. If you are deeply unhappy and have been for a long period of time, we would strongly suggest seeking counseling or medical help. There is nothing unmanly (or unwomanly for that matter) in getting assistance with depression, anxiety or unhappiness.
However, what we do offer here are 10 ways that have been scientifically demonstrated to improve happiness in the long-term which can be undertaken by any digital nomad.
Be Grateful For What You Have
The evidence for this is reasonable. Being grateful for what you have can make you feel happier. This is probably because you focus your mind on things that do make you happy and, as importantly, you’re not asking why they make you happy.
(Asking “why something makes me happy?” is a bad idea. It’s a question that’s proven to lead to unhappiness. Yes, this may seem counterintuitive but it’s true all the same).
Make Positive Memories
When you are happy, take some time to create a memory of that happiness, you can then recall it for a little happiness booster at a later date.
Many people seem to think their brains are super-efficient computers that record everything. They don’t. In fact, they don’t record anywhere near as much as we might imagine but we can force them into remembering stuff by pointing out what is important to us.
Hunt For Silver Linings
It can be very easy to sink into sadness when something bad comes along but quite often these things have “silver linings” – little moments of good in amongst the bad. If you search for these and make an effort to recognize them, it can help breed mental resilience which not only keeps you happier but reduces stress too.
Ditch Social Media
I argue for this all day every day and people still ignore me but it has been conclusively proven by researchers at Stamford University that social media makes no-one happier. Not even those people with 10’s of thousands of “friends” who they thought would be happier for it.
Take a break from Facebook or ideally delete your accounts and move your social life offline and into the real world, where it belongs.
Think About Your Spending Habits
Owning stuff generally doesn’t make us happy. It brings an initial dopamine rush when we buy it, which then quickly wears off. A Porsche is a spectacular thing to own for a day but a month later? It’s just a car.
Spending money on adventures and on family and friends, on the other hand, brings real happiness. It also helps create happy memories.
Determine Your Values
What’s important to you? No, really what’s important to you? Determining your values is something that we all ought to have done early in life but most of us never actually do. We talk about “values” a lot but without a clear understanding of them.
If you live consistently with your values, you are likely to be happier than if you live in conflict with them. Obvious right?
Imagine Doing Something Awesome
We may have to live real life, but a fantasy life can certainly make us happy. You can’t substitute fantasy for reality but there’s nothing wrong with taking 20 minutes to dream about doing something completely amazing, either.
This can help make you happy as you daydream, but it can also help you better understand what makes you happy in the long-term and focus your efforts on it.
Fortunately, we’ve got you covered with a digital nomad meditation method that doesn’t involve finding somewhere silent, buying a mat and shutting your eyes. This is meditation you can do anywhere.
The good news is that meditating has been proven to make people feel happier.
Push Through Your Fears
I know this is easier said than done. But if I can manage to climb a tree and hurl myself down a zipline (something which absolutely terrified me), I can also tell you that you can put your fears to one side and do things.
It is hard but it’s not impossible. The pay off for pushing through fear is that we get to see how ridiculous our fear was and that makes us happy.
Find Your Purpose
If there’s one thing happy and successful people seem to have in common – it’s a sense of purpose. We’ve written a guide to help you find your purpose as a digital nomad here. It’s not as hard as it might first appear, we promise.
No-one, not even a wealthy and successful digital nomad, is happy all of the time. It’s not possible. This is part of what it means to be human.
However, we can certainly take actions that lead to being happy more of the time. We’ve given you 10 scientifically proven methods to start with but there are plenty more.
Because of the complexity of this subject, we’ll definitely be returning to it at a later date. Keep your eyes peeled. Until then we wish you all the happiness you can generate.