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The Science of Happiness:
How does happiness affect us as Expats?

30 June 2020

Is it a culmination of the moments that bring us pleasure? A nice meal, a compliment at work, buying something new?

If we really think about when we felt happiest in our lives, it may have been when we had meaningful or fulfilling experiences, that were not without challenge. Educational achievement, success on a previous assignment or spending quality time with family and good friends are often remembered as times when we felt happiest.

So although we have a sense of what makes us happy, we don’t always focus on the important elements day to day.

This is where science can help. In the last 20 years, scientific research on happiness has increased exponentially. 

It is showing our happiness can be an input to things going right. Studies show happier people see a multitude of benefits professionally, personally and, most importantly, in mental and physical health. 

On expat assignment, producing our best work really matters. Our happiness has been scientifically shown to positively impact our performance at work in almost every way possible. Happier people tend to be:

  • more productive and innovative, with no loss in the quality of work. One study found doctors who felt happier made more accurate diagnosis, faster. 
  • viewed as more likeable, trustworthy and more deserving of respect and attention by colleagues.  
  • more committed and driven to achieving goals, critical on expat assignment. This includes financial goals. Research showed organisations that put care and attention into employee happiness outperformed stock market rivals across a 26 year period. 
  • less likely to suffer from stress. When faced with adversity happier people see the bigger picture and are better at coping with and recovering from work pressures. 

So, it is true to say that our happiness can really impact the quality of work we do, but what about our home life? Does our happiness impact how we are when we are spending time with loved ones?

When it comes to life outside of work, science is showing, the happier we are the more engaged we are likely to be with our family, friends, and community. It is also showing quality relationships are a vital ingredient when it comes to happiness and wellbeing.  The World Happiness Report shows happier people earn more money, were more likely to be married and were in better health.

Happier people are also more likely to help others, be active in their community and be more responsible citizens. All essential elements when it comes to settling into expat life. 

Studies show happiness has a myriad of health benefits, mentally and physically. Happier people are more likely to be physically active, have better heart health and lower blood pressure. This is particularly important for those of us living and working overseas, as expat life may be aligned to some of the contributory factors for heart attacks and stroke. 

A clinical study by Aster Hospitals in Dubai is showing some expats need to make changes to their lifestyles urgently as heart disease is striking a decade earlier in some instances.

There are factors we cannot control like age, gender and genetics that play a part in our chances of suffering from cardiovascular disease. However, there are also lifestyle changes we can make to reduce our chances of becoming ill including eating well and moving more. Research is telling us we are more likely to do both when we are feeling happy. 

A UK study found our happiness matters as we age, even when our health, wealth and lifestyle factors are accounted for. It suggests happy people maintained better physical function and walking speed declined at a slower rate than those who enjoyed life less. Similarly, a US study of those suffering with chronic pain showed those that felt happier were more likely to report lower levels of pain and that it was less likely to impact their day to day lives. 

Our overall happiness can play a part in maintaining good mental health. As mentioned earlier one of the effects of happiness is reducing stress which has a major impact on our wellbeing. One survey in the US showed that work stress can lead to increased use of alcohol or burnout.

Positive psychology, also known as the science of happiness and flourishing, researches the actions we can take to increase and sustain our wellbeing, boost our resilience and help prevent or limit common mental ill-health conditions such as depression and anxiety. 

So, it seems happiness is something worth taking more seriously.

More importantly, science shows us there is a lot we can do to influence our own happiness, especially as we face the challenges of expat life.

We have partnered with Science of Happiness expert Vanessa King to provide evidence-based actions you can take to improve your happiness before, during and after assignments.

If you want to learn how you can feel happier while on expat assignment, visit Allianz Care’s Happiness Hub and Take Back Happy.