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Expat Life

In Ecuador, you can find relief from the stressful life of Western culture

By Karla Freeman

Ecuador: Come sick, get healthy.

No, I don’t mean cure your arthritis or cancer, although that may happen too.

Karla logoI mean get healthy from all the stress-related attributes of Western culture that, in my opinion, cause a lot of our problems, both physical and mental.

So what are those attributes and conditions that define the way we live in North America and Europe? Let me throw out a few terms.

Rushing around

Goal-driven

Hooked on technology

Money-centered

Work-centered

Buying happiness

The more stuff, the better

Bigger is better

New things are better than used ones

Competition and comparison

No real down time, keep moving

Working vacations

The list could go on but I don’t want to depress anyone.

The working vacation is an invention of Western culture.
The working vacation is an invention of Western culture.

It seems that the Western, “more civilized” world, values “progress” above everything else. Do we assume it is better to progress than have a balanced quality of life and be happy? Many of us who have moved to Ecuador have learned otherwise.

Did you know Ecuador not only has a constitution that gives rights to Mother Earth, but that we also have a minister of happiness? (Click here to learn more). What a concept!

I have lived in Ecuador for more than four years and have gotten healthier and happier.

The country has taught me that a solution existed for my Northern Hemisphere stress and burn-out. The first step was facing my need to “detox” from my Western-style life with its relentless focus on work. I was indeed a worker bee, or maybe even a workaholic. Slowly but steadily, I have come to realize that I did not have to prove my worth by achievements in the workplace. In Ecuador, I have discovered a new paradigm, and have learned to value the connection to the community and the joy of personal creativity.

I have also taken a hard look at my consumer habits. The very fabric of the Western world is interwoven with the compulsion of shopping and buying, acquiring new things, whether we need them or not. These days I don’t shop much, don’t have as many things as I once did, and am not only happier but also freer.

Back in the U.S., when I met a new person, I was accustomed to asking, “What do you do?” or “Where did you buy that purse or jewelry?” In Ecuador I’ve learned to simply say, Como estas?, how are you doing, and understand that the well being of a person is more important than the things he or she has.

Living here has slowed me down. Where was I rushing before? Did anyone really care how much I got done in a day? The number of items on my “to-do” list never added to my self-worth; I only thought it did.

I notice that many new expat arrivals in Ecuador have perplexed looks on their faces. I say give them a year and then see what happens. In most cases, the perplexed looks gradually relax in something new: smiles. The real quality of life here is much higher even though the Internet is slower and we have less “customer service.”

When I was a therapist in Santa Barbara, California, many of my clients were stressed by the fact that they could not meet their health needs because of the high cost of medical care. What I noticed is that many of those health needs were the result of stress, not only about cost, but as a result of the culture that we lived in.

In Ecuador we can sit back and relax. At your favorite restaurant, you might ask for the check but you can sit and enjoy your meal and friends as long as you want. What a concept!

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Karla Freeman, expat, traveler, tango dancer, writer, currently lives in Cuenca and is the author of Creating Magic in Midlife: 101 Questions and Answers to Reinvent Your Work, Relationships and Life! Available on Amazon Kindle and at Carolina bookstore on Calle Hermano Miguel in Cuenca.