Using Gratitude to Understand Culture: An Expat Guide to Global Citizenship

Deciding to make your mark on the world in a positive way is a noble cause. I get asked a lot in my work for the United Nations and the World Bank Group how gratitude can transform our planet and help to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Some of the questions include: How can we support the universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity? One answer I always give is to increase the level of gratitude and grateful actions and make it part of your own global and cultural understanding. Previously, I spoke about how gratitude can become part of your everyday life. I would like to dive deeper into the topic and go into how global citizens are able to translate gratitude throughout the different multicultural communities they live in. One of the best ways to find happiness, fulfillment, a sense of purpose, and a sense of belonging is to try to help improve the lives of others, thus becoming your own “cultural ecosystem of gratitude.”

However, this can be an overwhelming goal: how can you, just one individual person, change others’ lives for the better? Thinking about that question may make you feel insignificant and impotent, but I’ve got concrete advice on how you can begin to affect others positively. How does your global mindset and gratitude work together? How can you grow them together in a synergetic bundle that will help you as a global citizen to live a culturally diverse and purpose driven life?

Find your bright lines and joy. If you want to try to make others happy, then you’ll need to start with yourself. What makes you happy? What brings you joy? Thinking about these questions will help you start to figure out how you can spread happiness to others. Never spend more than 20 percent of your time in darkness. When you move to a new country and still need to master the language, it is important to step outside your comfort zone or so-called darkness to realize that you need to include cultural activities in your calendar. It is important to make it a priority to set time aside for you to indulge in the activities that bring you happiness. Even if you don’t have the time to go on long off-trail runs every weekend like you used to; perhaps you can manage to connect with a tandem language partner,  grab a cup of coffee and share a cross-cultural moment to learn more about the uniqueness of their culture and mindset. You may be surprised at how quickly you start to light up after stepping out of the darkness of your comfort zone and into the light.

Influence and inform through your stories. One way I have truly learned to be grateful for any global expat experience I have had, was to share stories with others around my experience. I believe there is nothing more rewarding and helpful than sharing tacit and elicit knowledge with your community. Use social media as a tool to share your experience and connection you are making in your new landing culture with your ecosystem.

Constructing your unstoppable identity. It’s hard to help others effectively if your own life is a mess. If you really want to make a positive impact on the world, you’ll be better at it if you aren’t too distracted by your own problems. For example, maybe you would like to help another global citizen who is unemployed find meaningful work that provides them with a steady income. However, you shouldn’t give up on this goal just because you haven’t (yet!) held down one good-paying job for a long stretch of time in the new culture you live in. Indeed, once you manage to figure things out, you’ll be in an excellent position to help others who are in similar positions like yours. You will also be able to understand their situation and offer solid, proven advice once you manage to overcome your own obstacles. So, be fully present, even though it might uncomfortable at first.

A shift of mindset always. Your perspective will shape you or break you. Be honest about what you truly enjoy about the global life you are living. To be an “expat,” “globetrotter” or “global citizen” has become a trendy and cool thing to do. Don’t get me wrong, it absolutely is. It is one of the most rewarding experiences in life and it always forces you to challenge yourself and being aware of your strengths. Knowing what your strengths are, you should also think about whether or not you enjoy doing what you’re good at. To be able to consistently help others, you want to avoid boredom and burn-out. Doing what you are good at can help protect you from experiencing boredom and will shift your cultural mindset forever.

Look for the little ways to help. Make a resolution to perform good deeds every day. The best way to do this is to look for little ways to spread joy and/or help others. For example: Hold doors open for people with a welcoming smile. Let someone who is in a hurry move in front of you while waiting at the grocery store. Buy a pack of diapers for the new parents across the street (even if you don’t know them). Sincerely ask those who serve you (your waiters and waitresses, check-out clerks, gas station attendants, etc.) how they are doing. Even though these are fairly small gestures, they can still have a big impact on others. This could also translate to learning about the traditions and customs of countries and make them part of your own.

Count your blessings. Think about what you appreciate in your life, and the many ways you can share those good things to others. For example, are you in a fulfilling and purpose-driven career today in the country you live in? If so, then perhaps a good way for you to both express your gratitude, and help other global millennial tastemakers is to help them focus on finding their purpose-driven expat calling. The basic idea is to identify the various ways in which you’ve been helped or blessed and find moments to pay it forward to others.

Start your day by thinking about something you are grateful for and realize that you can level up your achievements and goals to be a connecting thread in this cultural unified planet we call earth!



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