Travel, Happiness and Hedonic Refugees

Are You a Hedonic Refugee?

Have you travelled or moved overseas in the search of happiness? Is so, according to the quote below, you’re a hedonic refugee. But does travel really bring happiness?

“Many people seem to be more at home, happier, living in a country not of their birth. Not political refugees. They are hedonic refugees, moving to a new land, a new culture, because they are happier there. Usually hedonic refugees have an epiphany, a moment of great clarity when they realize, beyond a doubt, that they were born in the wrong country.”
Eric Weiner, The Geography of Bliss

Sure, we travel fiends all have our bucket lists of places to visit, things we’d like to see and experiences we want to notch up, but some travellers are also motivated by the need to escape, the hope that they just might feel happier somewhere other than where they are now.

Many travel adventures spring from the need to get away from a boring job, a bad relationship or a soul-destroying place.

The Truth About Travel and Happiness

But people who travel in the hope there’s something better out there for them, or who travel to find happiness, might be wasting their time because studies have shown that we all have a “happiness set point” which never really changes. What that means is, even if you win the lotto, you might experience a boost in happiness for a few weeks, months or years but eventually your happiness levels will revert to what they were before.

Travel, Happiness and You

Fortunately there are things we can do to help improve our happiness such as:

  • practising daily gratitude;
  • staying healthy, exercising regularly and eating well;
  • surrounding ourselves with friends and positive people;
  • volunteering to help others;
  • adjusting our mindset to nurture a more positive outlook on life.

If that’s the case then travel can make you happier.

For example, if you know daily gratitude is important to you then life in a Buddhist country like Laos, where visiting the temple is a regular part of life, could make you happier.

If exercise is important for your mental health then try living in Australia where the climate and beaches make walking fun and where sport and fitness are part of the national psyche.

Conversely, if being surrounded by positive people is important to your happiness levels steer clear of places like Moldova where my expat and travel blogging friend Miss. Footloose from Life in the Expat Lane is currently living and where the people have a reputation for being somewhat dour.

In fact, if you want to be surrounded by positive people to help you adopt a more optimistic outlook in life, hop on a plane to Vanuatu which is thought to be one of the happiest countries in the world. It’s the kind of place where everyone smiles, no one is in a hurry and both men and women tuck a flower behind their ears just because they can.

Like me, the place where you were born and raised might not be your spiritual home. But many people love the Midlands in England where I grew up. The countryside is gorgeous and the people have a quirky sense of humour, but I always knew I’d move on as soon as I  could. It just wasn’t the place for me.

As a child I always thought I’d live permanently in France. It’s still somewhere I could happily live (I’ve lived there three times already) but so are many other countries.

I was happy traveling and living in some of my favourite countries like Laos, New Zealand and Costa Rica. But it wasn’t all a laugh a minute; wherever you live life has its ups and downs.

You have to deal with problems and upsets wherever you are now and wherever you’re dreaming of traveling to next.

There are some places we are drawn to and others we fall in love with as soon as we visit. Those are the special places which Tennessee Williams called “the home of the heart” and those places will be different for all of us.

What makes you happy won’t necessarily work for someone else, even for your partner and family. For example, we left our jungle home in Costa Rica because, although the kids were happy at the time, it wasn’t going to offer them as many opportunities growing up as other places might.

annabel rich candy hedonic refugees costa rica

Me and the Mucho Man exploring the jungles of Costa Rica while the kids were at school

Beaches do it for me but you may prefer mountains. I like open spaces and uncrowded places, but you may crave the excitement and opportunities of city life.

Wherever you choose to visit and live there is more than one path to happiness. There is more than one place that will make you happy.

But there is no perfect place. We need grit, reality and truth as well as stunning travel destinations to make our lives meaningful, not just indulgence. It’s that grit and discomfort that makes living somewhere like Kenya or Costa Rica with the dodgy phone connections, bad roads and unexpected occurrences an adventure which some travelers will thrive on and others will hate.

So do travel to find happiness but seek it within yourself first.

You never know, you might discover you don’t need to travel anywhere at all.

Or you might find, like me, that although you often crave stability, it needs to be balanced with change and travel adventures if you really want be as happy as you can possibly be.

Do travel and happiness go together hand in hand for you? Are you a hedonic refugee? 

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  1. Maureen September 24, 2012 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    I found a man in Australia so I suppose that makes me a hedonic refugee. Great article.

    • Annabel Candy September 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm - Reply

      Hi Maureen,

      Ah, that’s beautiful – and a love expat maybe?!

  2. Pat September 25, 2012 at 12:46 am - Reply

    Interesting twist on how different countries and cultures could appeal to different people and personalities. For those who like things neat and tidy, Switzerland is the place to live! I love to travel for the change of perspective that it always brings.

    • Annabel Candy September 27, 2012 at 7:21 pm - Reply

      Hi Pat,

      Lol, Switzerland it is for anyone with a touch of OCD then;) Or when you get fed up with the bad time keeping in certain countries!

  3. Cate September 25, 2012 at 6:10 am - Reply

    Hi Annabel,
    a post to make you think… it took my father years of taking us to different places and different countries to discover the place that made him happy (Australia). Conversely, I missed my home in England (in the Midlands, strangely enough) and for a long time just couldn’t ‘get’ Australia. I met and married my man, and stayed and raised a family, but have always felt restless… until recently when we finally bought our bush block and moved out of the city. Happiness is… looking out the window.
    Great post, Annabel,
    Cate x

    • Annabel Candy September 27, 2012 at 7:22 pm - Reply

      Hi Cate,

      Ah, that’s lovely you found happiness in the countryside or bush as we call it here. I’m definitely into that too. Cities wear me down:)

  4. Seana September 27, 2012 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    Hi Annabel, well this made me think. I was a bored teen in a small town in Scotland, and home life was not good. So my travels have had an element of running away. Was also ispired by a hippy aunty who used to drive to and from India in the 1970’s bearing exotic gifts. But these days I realise that i just love being in motion, loved flying to the Gold Coast today even with the kids in tow! So very stimulating to be in new places, whever they may be.

    • Annabel Candy September 27, 2012 at 7:25 pm - Reply

      Hi Seana,

      I think running away is a good thing is things are not good where you are. Love the story about your hippy aunt. My parents went on holidays without us kids from time to time and returned bearing gifts so maybe that fuelled my love of travel too.

      Glad you had a good holiday. Yes, I love the excitement of being somewhere new. Even if it’s a “boring” place it’s still new and different to me.

  5. Linda ~ Journey Jottings September 27, 2012 at 8:28 pm - Reply

    Travel definitely brings happiness –
    Even if you just become a tourist in your own neck of the woods and go out to see it (with your camera) through fresh eyes for a day.

    Like you Annabel, I had a yearning to travel the world so left England before I was 20.
    There are places you love, but living there for a period means they run their course – They satisfy that period of yearning and its then time to explore and discover new horizons.

    In the end, Home is where the heart is – which usually means either a place you love or a place where you’re with those that you love.
    Either the place or the people complement you :)

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