Back in 1987, I was in the process of wrapping up a two-year stint in Shimonoseki, Japan as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher when my path took me up to big-city Tokyo. For the last few months, I’d been living in kind of a dark place, emotionally: frustrated both by my struggles with Japanese culture and my ongoing status as a “gaijin” (foreigner). Sitting down with my buddy Tim one day (a jazz musician and old-Japan hand), our conversation went something like this:
Me: “Boy am I glad to be getting out of here soon! I’m so tired of all the formality in this country … the lack of spontaneity.”
Tim: “Well, yeah, the mindset is certainly different here in Japan.”
Me: “I’ll say. And why is it that whenever I go into a restaurant, they bring me a knife and fork? I’ve been here for nearly two years; you’d think they’d acknowledge that a foreigner can, indeed, use chopsticks!
Tim: “Maybe they’re just trying to be helpful.”
Me: “Yeah, right. I think it’s insulting. Anyway, I’m blowing this popsicle stand next month. Hong Kong to Bali, then Malaysia, Thailand, maybe India! Everything will be soooo much better for me then.
Tim (with a weary sigh): “Dave, don’t you see what’s wrong with your logic? Don’t you realize that you are you wherever you go. Whether you’re living and working here in Japan or climbing the Himalayas in Nepal, your mind and your attitude goes with you. The change in scenery won’t change anything if you’re unhappy, and worse, blaming others for your own unhappiness.”
I’ve thought a lot about Tim’s words over the years. How often do we tell ourselves that a change in situation or location will “make us happy” … and then we move away somewhere, or take a new job, only to discover that we’re still unhappy! Most especially in these challenging economic times, I think it’s important to remember that our happiness derives not from our external conditions but from our internal attitude. This crazy economy will end…hopefully someday soon…but we can’t wait until then to start living again. What we can control – right now –is our mindset, our negativity. Better yet, we can concentrate on the things that are going well in our lives, whether it’s health, living situation, friends, family, or relationship. Sure, it’s no fun being strapped for cash and worrying about finances. It’s no fun trying to do more with less. But escapist fantasies won’t help things.
You are you wherever you go … so try a positive outlook: right here, right now.