As a child growing up, we never celebrated much as a family. Birthdays yes, but not much more. I have recently been reminded that even small celebrations can boost our emotions and have a very positive impact on both our mental health and our experience of everyday life.
I read an article in the Harvard Business Review called ‘The Power of Small Wins’, and realised we can benefit from the research they conducted even though it was written with business management in mind. The authors of the article analysed diaries of knowledge workers (programmers, physicians, pharmacists, architects, engineers, scientists, and design thinkers) who were working on long-term projects. Their main message is this:
“of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the most important is making progress in meaningful work”
Living and parenting abroad and being apart means that it might be weeks before we are with our partner again, or years until we are permanently living together. Like me, do you sometimes feel like you are 24/7 parenting, alone to hold the boundaries for the kids and trying to be on top of everything? Let’s remember to stop and deliberately acknowledge something significant or happy. That’s the definition of celebration, right?
Frequency is also an important factor. The authors write: “The more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.” If we regularly celebrate, we will start to feel ‘on a roll’, and ultimately achieve more. We will start to feel more capable, and maybe find ourselves having time for things we would never before have thought feasible in our crazy schedule!
I think the most important point the authors make is that of ‘meaningful work’. How often do we go through the motions, which in turn transform into days and weeks and months, and we come out feeling like we’ve spent so much energy on something that is ultimately meaningless? The never-ending battle against the laundry pile, the full sink, the constant school homework, and the list goes on!
But oh how essential it is that we shift our mindset because all of these things are meaningful work! The writers of the article very helpfully explain that “Fortunately, to feel meaningful, work doesn’t have to involve putting the first personal computers in the hands of ordinary people, or alleviating poverty, or helping to cure cancer. Work with less profound importance to society can matter if it contributes value to something or someone important to the worker.” It’s hard when we don’t get recognition from those around us for the work that we do. The thing is, it’s often up to us to value our contribution. And celebrating is a step in that direction.
What do you consider a small win in the context of expat life and possibly living with a spouse away a lot? I encourage you to take time to think of occasions to celebrate. For me this means marking small steps like halfway points, the return of my husband on visits, the completion of small milestones in my business, etc.
It also means enjoying a nice cup of tea to celebrate finishing this blog post…
Download here my top tips to make family life work when frequent travel or split location is part of your life.
Rhoda Bangerter is a coach who has lived abroad with a travelling husband for over 16 years. She helps home based mums and dads live an intentional life and build family togetherness even when their partner is away a lot for work.