May 03

Fraud, debt, murder, suicide, love, grief, depression, psychosomatic illness, destitution, drug addiction, lack of job prospects, discord within the family, delinquency in the home, … these are just some of the reasons (or consequences) Expats face when there seems to be no way to return back home. A look at the newspaper is enough, many of the expat-related press reports basically describe people who see no escape from the tension of problems here in Asia on one hand and no option for a new start back home on the other.

Although emigration feels great at first and eliminates many of the pre-existing problems, frustrations or feelings of being ‘stuck’ – sooner or later, entirely new and unexpected problems or old burdens come back one way or another. Not only is there a cultural change to deal with that was often taken lightly when leaving, but we also take our ‘backpack of mental problems’ into the new country with us. Our ‘quirks’, weaknesses, interests and vulnerabilities are superimposed by the emotional high of migration, but gradually, most people increasingly find themselves dealing with the same old problems and difficulties again.

A man who suffered from depression in the States, will most likely also have to face it in Thailand at some point. Someone with a tendency to be aggressive can’t automatically leave it behind just by crossing the border, just as it is unlikely that someone who had difficulties in the West  finding a life partner will find the perfect ‘dream woman’ in a bar. Often, the unpleasant awakening occurs months or even years later – often at a time when a return to the old home seems harder than ever, due to financial reasons, or because relationships have ended, or because a return would raise even more problems than they already face. The result is a feeling of being running around, stuck in a dead end street from which it is difficult to escape.

Many expats facing such feelings try to drown them in alcohol or drugs, entertain themselves with superficialities, or their daily life increasingly turns into a interplay between periods of aggression and frustration.

Expat clubs, social services, or in emergency cases, the embassy can provide important support. Anyone who wants to improve his or her situation and achieve a sustainable change by clarifying the reasons for the difficulties and achieving a better quality of life might find surprising new perspectives while seeking professional support like coaching for a couple of months.

(This short article is part of a weekly series dealing with psychological expat problems and general mental health issues and was published in various newspapers and magazines in Thailand, 2011)

Jan 26

The grass might not be greener on the other side of the border, a new study from the University of Leicester has found. According to it, economic migrants travelling to different shores for greater income could be set for disappointment, because the pursuit of wealth does not necessarily equate with happiness.

Sociologist Dr David Bartram carried out the study: “Economic Migration and Happiness: Comparing Immigrants’ and Natives’ Happiness Gains from Income.”, in which he sought to establish whether those people who were motivated by higher incomes in a wealthy country actually gain greater happiness via migration. He also examined whether these economic migrants might have exaggerated expectations about what they will achieve and experience, such that there is some significant disappointment.

The result, according to Dr. Bartram: “The study of happiness tells us that people generally do not gain greater happiness from earning higher incomes – which suggests that migrants might be mistaken in believing that they will be better off if they can move to a wealthy country. (..) I also considered whether those who choose to migrate to a wealthy country are different from most people in this regard – perhaps they do gain greater happiness from higher incomes. So, the research seeks to determine whether in general we should be pessimistic or optimistic about the consequences of migration for the migrants themselves.”

“The results suggest that economic migrants might well experience disappointment. Migrants do gain happiness from higher incomes, to a greater extent than natives – but the relationship is weak even for migrants. In fact, it also works out that migrants are less happy than natives. The probable reason is that they expect to be happier by virtue of earning the greater incomes available in a wealthy country — but they end up wanting even more after they get there: aspirations probably increase at least as much as incomes! In short, even after an increase migrants find it difficult to feel satisfied with their incomes — just like the rest of us.
Many of us are guilty of believing that money is more important for happiness than it is – and this research suggests that migrants are not terribly different in this regard. Life as an immigrant in a wealthy country can be very hard.”

The research examined responses from 1400 people in the World Values Survey (existing survey data). Dr Bartram said that his study might also serve to allay some media fears and people’s concerns about being “overrun” by immigrants: “The fact is, most people around the world do not want to move to a wealthy country like the UK: perhaps they understand that money is not the most important thing, that there would be a real price to pay in leaving one’s family and community. And perhaps the research could also help potential migrants, especially those who are attracted by wealthy-country income prospects, to develop a better understanding of what life as an immigrant in a wealthy country would really be like.”

(Sources: ScienceDaily; Bartram, D.: “Economic Migration and Happiness: Comparing Immigrants’ and Natives’ Happiness Gains From Income.” in: Social Indicators Research, 2010; DOI: 10.1007/s11205-010-9696-2)