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How Science Proves Living in Mexico Will Make You a Better Person


Picture above: Yet both are the same sea.

Updated 2019

Loving yourself by becoming a better person in Mexico

The definitions of self-love, a practice that you hear quite a bit about these days from therapists and wayward teenagers alike, range from living with less guilt to lighting some candles and taking a bubble bath.  

For some it may be as easy as calling forth the airy angel of mindfulness reminding them to practice everyday kindnessor. For the rest of us it may mean reining in that raging lunatic, the Superego, that follows us around all day nagging us about how we’ve come up short. Regardless of how you define it, most of us could do with being a little more gentle with ourselves.

It’s easier to love yourself if you behave like a person whom even a highly discriminating person, like you, could love. We love ourselves more when we become better people.

Why you are a better person in Mexico: Your over-arching goals and cultural cues are different

I have always suspected that I am better person in Mexico. The reason I feel this way, I have come to find, is because I probably am. That has to do with how different environments affect behavior and the power of environmental cues, as described by Siegwart Lindenberg, with the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, "How Cues in the Environment Affect Normative Behavior."

According to his study, our behavior is directed of three overarching goals (127 goals feed into these). They are the normative goal (to behave appropriately, conform to legitimate rules), the gain goal (to maintain or improve one’s resources), and the hedonic goal (to maintain or improve the way one feels right now).

Together, these goals enable us to function in society. The shifting strength of the cues at any particular moment determines which of the three overarching goals gets the most attention.

The normative goal, the one that gets twisted when you are an expat, is the goal of conforming to the norms of your culture. When you move into a different culture, it's logical that the more you conform to it, the more successful you will be. It takes time to figure what adjustments you need to make. Normative goals shouldn't be confused with being conservative. Normative goals are goals accepted and encouraged by a whole culture, to conform to rules everyone sees as legitimate in a given society.

The gain goal is mostly activated by cues that indicate that money or competition play a central role in your living environment.  In a well-known study, competitiveness, characterized by a strengthening of the gain goal and the weakening of the normative goal, was triggered simply by the presence of business suit or briefcase in the room. Interestingly in the study, participants didn’t even remember seeing the briefcase.

When you stop and sharpen your awareness, you will see competitive cues surround you in the United States.  The V.I.P. area at a festival, the no-waiting in line for membership holders are competitive triggers, just like the business suit. Think about how the cues might be different for Martin Shkreli than for Warren Buffett's in his modest office in Omaha.

You compare yourself less to others

In the U.S. a  great deal of self-loathing (as opposed to self-love) comes from comparing ourselves to others in pursuit of the gain goal. We may envy friends’ financial success, their clothing or their education, telling ourselves“if only I’d…..”, “I should have…”

In Mexico, it’s not that my Mexican friends aren't at times smarter, more beautifulm or more talented than me, just like my friends often are at home. But comparing myself to my Mexican friends would be like a swimmer comparing himself to a more accomplished track star. You can’t really compare your success to that of someone raised in a completely different culture.

You don't confuse consumerism with self-love

As a skier, every winter I dwell on the pair of new ski boots I can’t afford. I may be immune to cars and electronics but walk me into a REI and I leave feeling pretty bad about myself.  We confuse self-love in America with buying ourselves something. If we are denied the means to do that, our gain goal is thwarted, frustrated

When I’m in Mexico, I don’t associate loving myself with treating myself to an expensive haircut or a $180 pair of jeans. In fact, shopping and buying seems more of like a chore.  The environment doesn't reinforce the idea of a purchase as a means of self-love.

Introspection equals self-love

Formerly extroverted expats widely report becoming more introverted and willing to take in other people's feelings. They don't say the first thing that comes to mind. They don't miss their more extroverted selves.  In fact, they feel like they are better people for its absence.

Just like showing true love to children emphasizes that time is the most important thing to spend on them,  loving yourself in Mexico means spending time rather than money on yourself.  More introspection helps you become a better person.  

You can change yourself by changing your environment

Can we change if nothing changes around us?

Human beings are social learners. Rather than learn how to operate in another culture by instinct, we learn from observation in a social context.  In Mexico, that means acting graciously because social cues (normative goals) reward graciousness.  It’s more looked down upon to be “maleducado,” impolite, inconsiderate) than to be financially unsuccessful.   

I don't understand you. I don't speak assholian..jpg

Learning another language changes you

As this article in LifeHacker pointed out, a second language can make you different.

Our words become our thoughts.  As part of a personal experiment, I am being selective about the vocabulary I learn in Spanish.  I am learning largely positive ones. Of course I learn the necessary functional, practical vocabulary. I can voice my displeasure, I just don't have as many ways to put it.

What I purposefully lack is a broad vocabulary to insult someone or be verbally disrespectful. Body language will do in a pinch, but I think all of us can agree it’s a poor substitute for words when it comes to doing damage.  

Can I re-shape my thoughts, behavior and by the careful choice of words I learn in Spanish? Science suggests you can. In a sense, you can create a set of rose-colored glasses through a new language.

If you know ten ways new ways to express gratitude and only one way to express anger, don’t you think that would change you? If you caught all the nuance of positive words but only the idea of the negative ones, don’t you think you’d create a kinder, more self-loving environment for yourself? 

What else besides living in another country and learning the language could possibly give you an opportunity like that?

Related Link:  How might cognitive bias affect your decision-making when thinking about moving to Mexico? 

Up next:  A sojourn to another country might be just the thing for writing that book you've always dreamed of writing.

Most recent post: Beautiful birds that you'll see in Mexico.

About the author:

Kerry Baker is the author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," an interactive e-book that takes you directly to the best free tools on the web, plus lesson plans for all levels. Use the lessons provided or make up your own unique lesson every day according to your mood and needs. Check out the reviews.

The Interactive Guide can be used on your laptop, e-reader or tablet, like the Amazon Fire.

She is also a partner with Ventanas Mexico, which provides resources for potential part-time and full-time expats, including "If Only I Had a Place," a guide to renting for the aspiring expat. Mexico is different in renting, with advantages and disadvantages. Find out what they are with this book.