What Do You Want?

If you ask someone this question, the answers are usually fairly predictable – I want to be happy. I want good relationships. I want a good job. I want more money. I want all the things (whatever they are in their opinion) that will make life happy.

This article by Mark Manson has been making the rounds lately – You probably know to ask yourself, “What do I want?” Here’s a way better question.   The question is – What do you want to suffer? What do you want to struggle for? His opinion is that if you want a good job, you need to struggle through the work it will take to qualify for and land that job. If you want a good relationship, you have to suffer through the dating, the failed relationships, and the work it takes to build a good relationship. You can want more money, but if you aren’t willing to do what it takes to get more money, do you really want it? It’s what you are willing to struggle for that tells what you really want.

I’m not sure I agree with this. I think if you are on the right path, it shouldn’t feel like a struggle, and it shouldn’t feel like suffering. If it does, maybe it isn’t the path for you.

Take expatiating to another country, like to Panama. This involves a process – researching your future location, making moving arrangements, wrapping up things in your former home, finding your future home, figuring out how to get things done in Panama, learning the rules and laws, the customs, the people, and the language, and building an entirely new life in your new environment.

Of course there are hassles but overall, it’s exciting and fun. You dream about your new home, your new life, and the welcome changes you expect it will bring. Finally, everything gets done and you arrive and reality sets in. How does that feel? Yes it’s hard to learn another language but it’s so cool when you communicate successfully, even if it’s only to buy a pineapple. Getting things done is a process, but each time you navigate through something you feel a bit more empowered and proud of yourself. Overall, the enjoyment and accomplishments outweigh the hassles and frustrations, and you are happy in your new life.

However, there are people who hate all this. They just want to settle in to that life they were promised – good living for less, paradise, eternal springtime, the house on the beach… whatever those publications and salesmen tell you to expect, or whatever others said it would be like. They don’t enjoy all the changes and challenges that come with moving. They don’t want to go to five people and make multiple copies to get something accomplished. They don’t want to deal with a new language and culture and customs. They want their familiar foods and habits, and lifestyle. If this is the case, maybe this isn’t the right path for them? We are all different and what makes me happy may not make you happy at all.

The failure rate of people expatriating to Panama is surprisingly high. Of course there are people who leave for health, family, or other reasons besides satisfaction with their lives in Panama. But, there are many, many people who move here and then find it isn’t want they wanted, and find that it isn’t going to make them happy. What a shame, and at what emotional and financial cost. Were they just not willing to suffer enough, or is the suffering an indication that they would be happier on another path?

We don’t need unhappy people in Panama. It isn’t good for them, for the country, or for the expat community. Of course I can’t evaluate who is a good candidate and who isn’t, but maybe I can toss out an idea now and then that can help people think about this for themselves.



About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
This entry was posted in culture, expatriate, Miscellaneous, moving, Panama and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to What Do You Want?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Your post came in as I’m making a list of things we must do prior to coming for our next visit. Last fall we were in Panama for 10 days. This trip we’re planning 4 – 6 weeks, because, though we both are very taken with all Panama can offer us, we need to heed the sound advice you and so many others give. Boots-on-the-ground survey with our own check list. The very first item on my Panama list is climate. Interestingly, I’m sitting indoors bundled up with the furnace running and blizzard white-out conditions raging outside at 28 degrees. Better climate–Check.


    • Cold? blizzard? Eewww! It’s 2:15 PM here, about 88 degrees, light breeze, sunny, comfortable in the shade… at least for us. I don’t like to be cold. You are right, there is no substitute for boots on the ground, and knowing yourself and what you need to be happy.


  2. Excellent post Kris. I read this article, too. What struck me was how depressing and pessimistic the article seemed to me. I don’t like suffering…never have. I don’t believe that in order to be happy we have to suffer. What this article lacked was the step-by-step process to reaching one’s goals and the idea that happiness resides inside, not outside. If one is not happy in the home country, one will certainly not be happy moving abroad. You are right…it is a process and it doesn’t mean that we have to suffer to accomplish our goals. Very thought provoking, and I am going to share this post on my blog as soon as I write my part called A Ticket to Paradise? That’s what I read in a headline the other day about winning the 1.3 billion dollar lottery. It irked me.


    • Ahh yes, my wise friend. That’s another aspect I didn’t talk about, that happiness is from within. Difficulties in life are inevitable but suffering is not. I’m looking forward to your post. I read somewhere that lottery winners say their lives changed for the worse because of winning.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very insightful dialogue, Kris!!! Yes, people also move to Sedona, where I live now, hopeful that it will change them personally, change their ‘psychology’, only to find out that sometimes moving to a beautiful place will do the opposite, or change for change itself, is not the answer. In a way I understand the suffering thing, though may have rephrased it. We can not run away from our suffering. We must face it down, give it the empathy it craves, so that we can move on as more integrated beings. Great post!


    • Wherever you go, there you are. I heard that somewhere… and you are right. Changing circumstances doesn’t change what is inside very much.
      I think I understand suffering as a possible reaction to difficulties in life, but suffering to reach a goal? It doesn’t seem to me that this should be suffering. Maybe it’s work, maybe a lot of work, and difficulties, but the process should be generally happy if it’s the right path.


      • indacampo says:

        That’s Dr. Seuss my friend. And this describes Panama perfectly:

        You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
        Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
        A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
        Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
        How much can you lose? How much can you win?

        When our niece returned to Canada after her 2.5 week visit in December she said she felt strange. Everything was just too easy she said. I’m so glad that we “came in” to Panama. No matter what lies in our future we’ll never take “easy” for granted again.


        • LOL Yes indeed, good one 😀
          It felt to me in the US that everything was very orderly, clean, manicured, and you don’t have to be creative to communicate with the words you know. Sales and service people always smiled and wished you a nice day, but usually it didn’t feel “real”. Easy though? I don’t know… maybe. Maybe now that I’ve been here for a while, this is normal and easy enough.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Kris,
    A very thought provoking post. If folks that are thinking about moving here, have “baggage” where they are now, they are not going to escape it. They need to deal with it before making a major move.
    On occasion we have encountered some folks that want to move down here and don’t have a clear plan for moving here, healthcare, and an exit strategy.

    If you can’t go with the flow, stay where you are!

    Our paradise is not for everyone. ( Thankfully!)


    • I see that all the time… people who obviously need to do a lot more homework and self examination. I try to give them some sensible ideas but unfortunately, I think there will always be people who buy into the dream without examining the reality, often with sad results.


  5. Sunni Morris says:


    Thoughtful and helpful post. I agree that happiness comes from within and changing locals won’t suddenly change anyone’s curcumstances. But you’re right, there will always be people who buy into the “paradise” ideal without really thinking things through themselves.

    Of course there are always issues to deal with any place you are. That’s just part of life, but I think people have to decide if all the extra issues of living abroad are for them. There are a percentage of people who don’t have the patience to go through five people to get something accomplished, not to mention everything else you deal with in Panama.

    As far as suffering goes, I look at it more like “paying your dues,” which is something all of us encounter in life as we move forward with any aspect of living.

    I really think it’s important that you’re willing to keep writing these informative posts for the ones looking to move abroad. It gives those people plenty to ponder as they make decisioms about the future.


    • I think about people moving without the necessary information. How much responsibility to we (the expats who came before them) have to help them out? How much do we worry that they didn’t do enough homework, believed the wrong people/publications, made foolish decisions, etc? Ultimately I think it’s the person’s responsibility to do their own homework and soul searching but unfortunately this isn’t always done well.
      Paying dues, yes, good way to put it. Or, just doing what needs to be done and of course there is enough of this however and wherever you choose to live. It’s just more complicated in another language and culture.


  6. This is a wonderful post, Kris! I agree with all the comments, as well. Happiness is a state of mind and comes within. I’ve seen people elsewhere with absolutely very little and walking down the street barefoot and singing away with a smile. How awesome is that?


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