Life as an Immigrant

Some of us are like the trees. They are born in a country where they grow roots. Others are like the river, flowing into foreign countries of great expectations.

We get enchanted by the idea of breaking free from whatever makes us feel imprisoned back home. We get lured by higher levels of income and more exciting careers paths. Yet, we may forget one aspect: living in another country shakes up the core of our being, identity and believes.

We have two alternatives: either live in continual rejection of the new environment or accept it. Accepting the new culture means finding ways of adopting some of the values that resonate in us and being aware of the differences. After living as a foreigner for more than ten years, I am still struggling to understand the way of interaction between people in the new country, as I write in the Expat View of the Helsinki Times.

Living in another country offers the opportunity to embrace spiritual growth. There are so many cultures around this globe, yet there is a common beginning and end for each life. As for myself, I never left from my home country, but then again, I never stayed either. I guess I am like a bird, migrating back and forth.

If We Only Gave a Chance to Spontaneity

As we get old, we lose the ability to react spontaneously to life circumstances. If we are the type of people who want to control their lives, we may not even have the desire to cultivate this ability. However, we may want to reconsider. Spontaneity may work wonders on our wellbeing.

Addicted to the agenda

Life gets better and then you die. As we grow older, we leave behind the insecurities and the lack of self-esteem. Well, at least we notice improvements in our inner lives as adults.

We are not fooling around anymore. Instead, we take pride in living according to tight schedules at work and in planning our free time. Has it happened to you to first grab your agenda when a friend asks to meet so that you can check when is the next free time slot? If yes, then it makes two of us!

We complain that life is routine while spontaneity is forgotten. A few days ago, a meeting was cancelled in the last minute. So there I was, panicking at my friend’s door, “What am I going to do now with two hours of no plans?!!”.

Stroke of inspiration

After taking a deep breath and counting to ten, I remembered about a time in my life when I loved to react spontaneously to circumstances. Spontaneity was fun! It was revealing sides of me I didn’t know I have! It was making me feel alive!

I wanted it back! So, I decided to walk back home, but on a route I hadn’t taken before. I looked at the buildings and nature covered by snow with different eyes. I searched for the beauty of the places that were unfolding. I let the sunshine cleanse my mind of the intoxication of the daily stress.

Life as an adult may be equally exciting as we dreamt of when we were kids if we allow ourselves a tiny bit of spontaneity. We’ll feel free to experience the life outside our agendas! We’ll feel adventurous to follow the inspiration of the moment!

Remember the childhood

Even if you prefer to plan your days, it probably does not hurt to reach into that exciting childhood memory where you had absolutely no clue on what was going to happen next. I believe it is worthwhile to go back to that moment and reclaim our power to be flexible to circumstances. Why is it worthwhile? Well, then, we can say that we lived intensely! And we maintain the sanity of our minds till we get old!

Friends Will Be Friends – Is It Really So?

Some friends are there to stay. Others pay only a short visit in our lives. Even if some friendships are not meant to last in time, they teach us some lessons about ourselves.

Forever friends

The celebration of Valentine’s Day, which in countries like Finland, is called “Friends’ Day”, makes me think of the value of friendships. Each one of us has all sorts of friendships, with their particular dynamics and based on different foundations. We can befriend someone because he/she is considerate or funny or strong or sexy or knowledgeable or rich, etc. Most likely, there is one aspect about our friend which we like, attracts us and to a certain extent, makes us addicted.

I used to consider friendships as a publicly declared brotherhood, in which we pledge loyalty and sincerity.

Life has proved me that only a few friendships are forever. When a new chapter in life is approaching the end, some friends go as well. There is sadness and disillusionment, but before we have time to figure out what happened, new friends inaugurate another chapter.

What do we learn from the cycle of friendships?

To be humble. Our importance in the friends’ lives is minimal and temporal. We can pour all our affection onto our friends but at the same time, we need to understand that one day, they may very well leave without saying good-bye or slamming the door with an insult.

To celebrate each stage of our lives. In each friendship, there is something we have in common. For example, when I was single, I used to spend more time with friends who were single. Now, when I am a mother, I seek the company of friends who are mothers.

To apprehend our personal growth. Some friends are mirrors of ourselves. They possess strengths which are missing in us. In a way, these friendships are like a yin yang. This means that we also posses strengths, which our friends lacked at a particular point in the relationship.

To manage our vulnerability. We uncover a side of ourselves in each friendship. When the friendship ends, that shared side of ourselves feels like a wound for a while. Yet, sharing a part of ourselves is the most precious gift that we can give to someone else. For example, I like to imagine that I donated a painting of my emotional mood to a friend who is not part of my life any longer.

Not to take things personally. When we fail to understand our friends’ perspective, it’s a good time to remember that the way friends behave has nothing to do with what we did. On the contrary, it tells something about them, something that we didn’t see in them before.

How trustworthy are friendships?

Friends can betray us. They can reveal ugly sides. Yet, having friends is a main component of life. We laugh together, we cry together and we go separate ways.

Friendships may not be forever, hell, none of us is forever! But what would our inner lives be without the touch of friendship? As for me, what can I say? I am a lucky girl to have all the friends that I have had.


How Selfish Do You Think You Need to Be in a Marriage?

And they lived happily ever after. What a wonderful ending for childhood stories. I used to close the book with a smile full of anticipation and naiveté. After many years of taking the face value of these stories, I finally understood their deeper meaning.

Why did the princess and not the daughter of the witch win the heart of the prince?

Well, yes, everybody, especially children need to hear about happy endings. But if we take a closer look at the true nature of the character of the princess, she is the embodiment of kindness, altruism, and compassion. In exchange, the daughter of the witch is mean and selfish.

Passion and the initial love may change over time. As Mark Twain said in his Notebook 1894, “No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century …”. Interests, needs, beliefs and physical appearance change. One aspect stays constant: the true nature of each one of us.

What helps to mitigate marital conflicts?

Research on Americans and Europeans shows that married people perceive themselves to be happier than single, divorced or separated people (Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living).

“I think that if one is seeking to build a truly satisfying relationship, the best way of bringing this about is to get to know the deeper nature of the person and relate to her or him at that level, instead of merely on the basis of superficial characteristics.” (Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living)


Maintaing a healthy and happy marriage is a journey of spiritual growth. As much as it is about discovering the deeper nature of our spouse, as Dalai Lama wisely pinpoints, it is about fighting the demons inside us. And the biggest demon is the selfishness which characterises each human being.

Being open to improve ourselves

A happy marriage is built on the willingness to destroy the selfishness, which is the cause of most of the conflicts. Instead of wasting the time on being angry and pointing our finger at the faults in our spouse, a constructive attitude is to remember that both we and our spouses want to be happy and don’t want to suffer.

The perfect love after a quarter of a century of marriage does not come by the grace of God. On the contrary, it requires patience and team work to discover the “deeper nature” of our partners. I am not an expert in happy marriages, but one thing I’ve learned so far is that living happily ever after means knowing how to turn the selfishness into altruism towards our spouses.


When Is the Last Time You Did Something for a Stranger?

In some situations, helping others is not a question of having fun. It is a question of moral duty, which we have as human beings. There are two ways to look upon this moral duty: must-to-do or want-to-do thing. It may be beneficial to our happiness and personal growth if we embrace the latter attitude.

I don’t have time for myself, so much less for others

New York Times reported on a study done by Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist and four psychologists that finds that women perceive the time with their parents being similar to work. Tasks such as helping with the housekeeping or planning family gatherings with their parents are found to be less pleasant for women. Other studies find that modern women experience a sink in their personal happiness due to the increase of tasks they need to manage. (link to the article in the New York Times)

Some of us find time to go to the gym. Others invest time in finding out how to cook healthy food or where should they go in the next holiday. How about investing a tiny bit of time into cleansing our inner lives? Imagine how our lives would be with hardly any consuming thoughts.

As paradoxical as it may sound, it may help a great deal to get more involved in the community of humankind where we signed up when we were born. Being present for others around us means observing life as it happens. At first, it may be challenging because we are too engaged with our daily problems. Even when we don’t have a problem, our mind creates one.

The great news is that learning how to be aware of the people around us can be turned into a habit, just like any other habit. Starting with baby steps may be a wise decision. For example, we can start by learning to become aware of the people we pass by in the street.

A few days ago, something wonderful happened when I was travelling with my baby by bus. A middle-aged woman stopped right in front of us, gave an energising smile and said, “Hello”, to my baby.

He is usually looking at the other passengers with the curiosity of a child. The others do their best at avoiding eye contact, God knows where their thoughts are taking them. This woman not only noticed my baby’s eyes but greeted him with a spontaneous joy. For a few seconds, we stood there smiling at one another, forming a triangle of sunshine.

What happened after this short connection with a stranger? The numbness I felt was replaced by aliveness. My inner world turned into a space of joy and peace.

Our empathy, warmth and affection need training, just like our muscles

Make a baby smile.

Listen to an elderly person in the street.

Make room for spontaneous meetings with friends.

Keep company to your ageing parent when seeing a doctor.

Actions like these are maintaining the aliveness and spaciousness in us. Yes, it is very important to focus on our lives and to achieve our dreams. Yet, the meaningful and happy life is within our reach when we develop the habit of giving and receiving empathy, human warmth and affection.

There is potential for happiness in each one of us with so much creativity and positive energy. If we take some distance from our everyday problems and focus, for a change, on what happens around us, then we’ll find ways of releasing this potential!


Inspired how to Connect with Others

According to Dalai Lama, connecting with others is a source of happiness (The Art of Happiness). However, practising how to connect with others in an unfriendly environment may turn out to be very difficult, sometimes we may be tempted to give up. When we become parents, it is very important how we behave with others. Our children are there watching and they’ll remember when they become adults.

Connecting with others in a foreign culture

For me, the need to connect with others is like the need to breathe air. Maybe I wouldn’t have realised this, if I hadn’t moved to another country. After years of introducing myself to others as a foreigner, I have understood the importance of connecting with others to my lasting happiness. The problem is that the local culture is not encouraging the small talk. I have felt like a Don Quijote of modern times when communicating with others. Day by day, my small world was built on the foundations laid by the interaction with the few work colleagues and the few friends.

I sank into emotional distance. I was weeping in my loneliness as a foreigner surrounded by locals who are fond of silence and personal independence. I became faithful participant to the gym with the hope that I would stumble upon some friendly others. In vain! Years passed by, and I felt emotionally handicapped. The friends that I saw once a months were not enough to satisfy the thirst of human intimacy and closeness.

Connecting with other mothers is important but equally hard as with the rest

Having a family in the new country gave meaning to life. It saved my emotional life. For a while, I was so in love that nothing mattered. Alas, one day when I was walking with my baby, I realised that the family does not replace the basic human need to be able to connect with others. Becoming a stay-at-home mother makes things worse.The social interactions are limited. The emotional distance that I felt before becomes even bigger.

Visiting the playground became the daily challenge to reach out to the other mothers. Unlike me, they seem to be self-sufficient in their small world. No eye to eye contact, not a polite smile.

My baby smiles and comes closer to other babies. He is puzzled by the lack of response and he looks back at me. I shrug my shoulders, “What can I tell him?”. After few seconds, he approaches again other babies. Again and again, until he finds one baby that reciprocates and they start playing.

When the inspiration stroke

One day, I decided to imitate my baby’s behaviour. I initiated the small talk. I started talking to other mothers at the playground. I pretended I don’t see their reluctance to talk and smiled back. Deep inside, I was infuriated. I considered buying plane tickets and fly us far away from the country. In that moment of fury, Dalai Lama’s wisdom seemed but an utopia.

Why bother to reach out when you seem to be  the only one doing it?

Connecting with others means tapping into our compassion and building the strong foundation which makes us human:

“And once you encourage the thought of compassion in your mind, once that thought becomes active, then your attitude towards others changes automatically. If you approach others with the thought of compassion, that will automatically reduce fear and allow an openness with other people. It creates a positive, friendly atmosphere…And with that attitude, even if other person is unfriendly or doesn’t respond to you in a positive way, then at least you’ve approached the person with a feeling of openness that gives you a certain flexibility and the freedom to change your approach as needed.” (Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness)

To my mind, connecting with others is not only about being open or any other fear. It is also about knowing how to deal when you offer a part of you to someone who does not appreciate it. Here it is the point where we need to learn how to cultivate compassion and stay calm when confronted with unfriendly behaviours.

It’s worth to keep on fighting for connecting with others, despite their coldness and indifference. There are days that bring wonderful surprises. Some of the others reciprocate with friendliness and they share stories from their lives. I smile and I feel warmth. I feel human and energised.

A simple but friendly interaction can increase the daily happiness. My baby feels the positive vibes in the air as well. He continues playing happily.


When we become parents, we embrace the responsibility to be a role model for our children. Those of us who live in multicultural contexts, we want to show to our children that despite the multiculturalism where we may not always understand others, we can choose to relate to others as human beings, and not as national identities.

We want to expose our children to multicultural interactions. If others turn their back on us, we can explain to our children that it is OK to be sad.

It is not OK to become the centre of our sadness. Instead, we can try to relate to the unfriendly others at a human level, thinking that “She must have a bad day!”. Maybe tomorrow will bless us with a positive interaction.

The important lesson is to keep on practising our attitude to others on both occasions: when treated with friendliness and when treated with unfriendliness. It is a painful work, but it is one of the tickets to our lasting happiness! And an excellent example to our children!