Here is my greatest lesson learnt as an expat living in the Netherlands.
Once the New Year sets in, people automatically start thinking about new resolutions, objectives and wishes. Even if I truly hate that, I still feel my hand itching for a pencil so I can start writing a looong list of things I’ll never do. Oh, well, I got to start working already on my loser state of mind from the end of the year, right? But no matter how big or small, all New Year’s resolutions have one thing in common: the desire to be happy.
Especially if you were raised up in an Eastern European country, you know that happiness doesn’t come easy. Since when you are born, you basically hear all the possible ways you could fail in life and all the possible pieces of advice and things to do in order to avoid that. And yes, there is an extensive to do list. And no, there is never enough. You can always do better. It’s like you weren’t born to be happy, but rather always on the way of becoming happy. And never truly getting there.
But living in the Netherlands for the last 2 years, I have discovered a new category of people: the ones born to be happy. I am talking about people from my generation, born around the 80s, who were brought up in an already developed society and all they had to do is live a worry free life and explore ways that would bring them happiness.
“I am always happy” is a statement of one of my Dutch friends that echoes in my ears. “I have never lived such a drama” tells me another girl from the Netherlands, who I’ve been to a course with.
What is the explanation to that? Or is there a secret maybe? For that we just need to take a quick look in the history. And I will not go further from my own example, which is pretty much average from my country. I was born in the 1980 and lived 9 years under the communist regime. Of course I was too young to remember much from that period of time, but my parents did. And still do. It was a time when you had to marry young, without really experiencing several partners, start life as an adult when you were still in your early 20’s (my mother had me when she was 23 and that was a classic example), contraception methods were scarce and abortion was illegal. So my parents and most of the people from their generation did not have any choice but to… well, be parents. And they did the best they could in a world where all the values were upside down and there were no role-models to guide them. A world that seemed like a battlefield, where the strongest and most gifted one survived. So instead of being brought up to be happy, my generation was trained to be survivors.
2nd stage: you’re starting to get it
While my parents heard every day that divorce is not an accepted choice in the society, the mother of one of my friends from the Netherlands was already divorced twice. Because she knew is it not a stigma to be a divorced woman and it is ok to pursue your happiness.
And she raised my friend in the same way. And so did all the other Dutch parents. And no, none of the Dutch people I met were raised by their grandparents, like the typical Romanian example.
And now, young Dutch people know, and most importantly, experienced, that: it is ok to fail in life, it is ok not to have straight A-s in school, it is ok to postpone yours studies, to fail an exam, to choose art as a career, to divorce if you are not happy, not to have kids when you are ready for that responsibility, to be gay or to work as a man in an industry dedicated to women.
Of course, the financial factor played an important role. Being born in a developed economy, you can choose a less serious/money-maker job and still have a good life. So Dutch parents did not have to push their kids into becoming lawyers or accountants in order to have a decent living. And if they are not happy with their job, it is not an irrational act to go and start brand new, in a totally different field.
So it is as simple as that: some people were born with more potential of being happy. And I’m glad I could see that and learn from that. And it gave me hope that my children will be born to be happy as well. But first, I have to get happier. I will never be Romanian-happy, because there are too much points that need to be checked before that. But instead, I will try to be Dutch-happy. And for that, I have learnt to accept that it is ok to be 33 and still love to go to animated movies.
So my latest shape of happiness is the image of the snow man from “Frozen” who was desperate to see summer and when his wish became true and he was melting, he yelled full of joy: “This is the happiest day of my life! And probably the last” 🙂