Expats are generally happy not because they are necessarily wealthy or privileged, but because their new lives allow them to be themselves.

Expats are generally happy not because they are necessarily wealthy or privileged, but because their new lives allow them to be themselves.

There are numerous valid reasons for becoming an expat: money, career progression, health, love, or simply a change of scenery. All are strong push and pull factors that have driven millions of people the world over to up sticks and embrace a new country, climate, culture and lifestyle

But perhaps one vital, and overlooked, component among all of this is the chance to find oneself. This probably gets overlooked because it sounds a bit, well, wishy-washy: the upheaval of one’s life should be for tangible, measurable reasons rather than simply an urge or a feeling, many people would argue.

It is true that moving countries is a serious undertaking, so it makes sense to plan with your head and not your heart. But then again, a new study has found that becoming an expat is perhaps the best way for an individual to really get to know him or herself, which in turn will make them more likely to find a career path in which they excel or identify a lifestyle or partner that best complements them.

In short, what sounds tenuous is actually rooted in science: getting out of your comfort zone in order to better understand what makes you tick can do wonders for your health, wealth and happiness… and the shortest route to these goals comes via living life as an expat.

The study, conducted by the University of Houston, Texas, examined six elements of “self concept clarity” among volunteers. These elements are widely considered in scientific circles to best represent and measure how well people know themselves. For example, how one might respond to certain challenging conditions, how self-absorbed or reflective a person is, and how people handle conflict and opportunities to collaborate with others.

The study found that people who regularly took themselves out of their comfort zone became, in turn, more likely to relish and look forward to new opportunities as their comfort zone widened. This trait was heightened in those who lived in a foreign country, said the study, because such expats were “free of the restraints and expectations associated with their own cultures”, leaving individuals free to focus on what is more important to their lives.

Such a sense of freedom is often the hallmark of the happy expat. Sure, having enough cash behind oneself can certainly broaden opportunities, but the happy-go-lucky attitude that many expats around the world possess is rooted mostly in the fact that they are generally more at ease with themselves, either having found their calling in life or at least learned where their strengths and weaknesses lie.