Hygge or Karōshi – Which Path are You Following?

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on September 18, 2018. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

In a report completed by the United Nations, it was found that by the end of 2017 there were 258 million international immigrants, often referred to as expatriates, living abroad.  (Full report here.)

The word “expatriate” has a different meaning depending on who you ask. According to InterNations.com, the word “expatriates,” expats for short, “is generally used to refer to people who temporarily or permanently live in a different country than the one they were born in or whose nationality they have.” The word “international immigrant,” on the other hand, is often used to refer to someone who plans to stay abroad indefinitely. For the sake of this article, let’s use “expats.”

There is a myriad of reasons why people, specifically millennials, choose to leave their home country. Whether for a career boost, an “Eat Pray Love” self-fulfillment adventure, or simply because of economics, millions of young people are leaving their native land to jump into a new experience. People are spreading all over the 30 most popular destination countries highlighted below. 

Hygge or Karōshi – Which Path are You Following?Great Job Opportunities

Traditionally, one of the most common reasons people moved abroad was for a career boost. Employees are paid handsomely by their employer to take this position overseas and perhaps a rise in seniority.  

According to this Expat Explorer Report conducted by HSBC, which interviewed 26,000 expats in 190 countries and territories, “Younger expats stand out as the most likely of all age groups to move abroad in search of greater fulfillment at work, with nearly a quarter (22%) of expat millennials (aged 18-34) saying they moved abroad to find purpose in their career.”

There are many podcasts and articles sharing why moving abroad is one of the best decisions you can make in your career, but as you get older and have more responsibilities, it becomes more difficult to pack up and leave. And the decision exponentially becomes more difficult if there is a family involved.  

It makes sense that the younger generations are embracing this cultural leap since there is less tying them down at home. Plus, as the general sentiment amongst the younger generations is geared towards travel and adventure, hopping on a plane halfway across the globe is a welcomed experience.

Hygge or Karōshi – Which Path are You Following?Ability to Work Remotely

Today, 43% of Americans work remotely, which is about a 4% increase from 2012. Flexible schedules mean that time can be spent outside of an office and in a comfortable environment that is conducive for employees to get their best work done.

When I first came to Ambergris Caye over half a decade ago, I could count the number of young expats on one hand. Most expats living on the island were retirees who were looking to escape the stressors of life back in North America. Night after night, they were content swaying back and forth to Jimmy Buffet covers at the local beach karaoke, barefoot.

But there simply was not a large Gen-X/millennial population living on the island because there was not a tremendous amount of opportunity. Infrastructure was not conducive to run a successful online-business and, remember, Skype was blocked in Belize until April 2013! While the cost of living was attractive for a Caribbean island, jobs were primarily reserved for entrepreneurs and mom & pop operations.

So much has changed on Ambergris in just 6 short years – the island has fiber optics, there is reliable WiFi virtually everywhere you go, and Skype is no longer blocked! The group of younger people, many of whom work remotely from their laptop while lounging by the infinity pool on the beach, has easily grown 12-fold.

Not just in Belize, but all throughout the world we have seen an increase in remote workers and job engagement since 2012.

In 2012, the workers who said they felt most engaged while working remotely were those who spent the least amount of time off-site. By 2016, that was no longer true. According to Gallup, “Those who spent 60 percent to 80 percent of their time away from the office had the highest rates of engagement.

“In spite of the additional time away from managers and co-workers, they are the most likely of all employees to strongly agree that someone at work cares about them as a person, encourages their development, and has talked to them about their progress.”

In today’s day and age, where you can pop open your computer, turn on WiFi, and start working, the world truly becomes your oyster. And many people are taking advantage of it. Why is this important? Let’s read on.

Finding Your Hygge

Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah) is the Danish word for that warm and fuzzy feeling you get in your heart when you are comfortable. It is difficult to describe, so it is often expressed as an environment or an experience. Think of a snowy, winter night and you are curled up on your couch under a warm, fuzzy blanket. The fireplace is going, you have a cup of rich hot chocolate, the lights are dim, and you are with the one you love. You’re feeling calm, secure, and relaxed. Embodied by a calming ambiance, usually with divine scented candles, it evokes a sense of well-being and togetherness. This is hygge.

The Danes have mastered hygge and it is no surprise that Denmark was ranked the happiest country in the world. As a result, according to Movehub.com, there has been a tremendous amount of interest “in the number of people wanting to move to Copenhagen,” even despite the long, dreary winters.

Hygge or Karōshi – Which Path are You Following?On the other end of the spectrum is karōshi, a Japanese word literally translating to “death by overwork” caused by stress and poor diet. When people are in a high-stress job and are not taking care of themselves physically, they get worn out and risk early death. It is no secret that being “always on” can be detrimental to one’s well-being.  

Finding your hygge is about finding balance. In the States, where work/life balance has been ignored for years, Consumer Resource Guidemany people today strive to attain the perfect mix. Now there is more emphasis on strong mental health, physical well-being, and spending time with close family members and friends.

If folks are not able to find this sense of balance in their home country, the proactive ones are searching elsewhere. In the Expat Explorer report by HSBC mentioned earlier, it was found that, “Globally, most expats find living abroad to be a positive experience. Over half (52%) agree that their quality of life has improved since moving and 61% say they are integrating well with the local people and culture.”


So, whether you are planning to go overseas for a job or simply to find your balance, always stay attentive to the path you are taking. Today, right now, reflect on whether you are following the path to hygge or karōshi and take action.

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on September 18, 2018. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

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