Be Happy in Shanghai

What should you do when you get the blues in Shanghai?

Carrie Jones is the Director of Counseling for Community Center Shanghai. She is a licensed Clinical Social Worker from the state of Texas, USA, where she worked in a number of settings including a family counseling center, a substance abuse center, and several schools. She has a Master's Degree in Social Work from Baylor University.


What problems that lead to unhappiness are specific to Shanghai?

Carrie: There are the obvious issues of culture shock and transition / adaptation and also, at the opposite end of the spectrum, cultural burnout. Many people here experience some degree of loneliness. They may have many social acquaintances but few close friendships and some people are hesitant to really invest deeply in relationships knowing that they will likely be temporary. Even within family life, there can be unique dynamics here where a partner / parent travels frequently. This leaves the other one here to manage day-to-day life and details alone and can make some relationships vulnerable to infidelity. Many people here also find themselves having to live in a dual reality – managing life here and life back home too. There are also practical issues here such as air and food / water safety that can weigh heavily on people’s minds.


What causes of unhappiness do you hear about most?

Carrie: At the Community Center, the top three most common issues we see clients for are depression, anxiety, and relationships (especially marriage, but also can be parenting, etc). Other common issues include eating disorders, workplace / school stress, anger, and grief and loss. For children, adaptation and transition issues, behavioral issues, and sleep issues are common. Feeling the pressure of high expectations is common among clients of all ages – kids, teens, and adults alike.


What can people do to help resolve these issues?

Carrie: Self-care is vital – pay attention to the basic things like sleep, diet, and exercise; these seem obvious but often are the first to suffer when we are unhappy. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help when you need it, whether from family and friends or from professionals. I frequently remind people that asking for and accepting help is not a sign of weakness, but rather the exact opposite – a sign of strength. If you are spiritual or religious, draw on this strength. Even for those who are not, things like mindfulness and meditation can help.


Are there any easy tricks that can make a big difference in your day-to-day?

Carrie: Try to maintain a sense of humor and perspective. In the challenging, this-is-China type moments / days, I remind myself that as frustrated, irritated, or annoyed as I may be at the time, later it often makes for a hilarious story to tell at dinner, during the next trip back home, or on Facebook. Some people find it highly beneficial to keep a gratitude journal or to engage in some sort of happiness project to help keep their focus on the positive.
Make local friends beyond your driver or ayi. My husband and I have lived in Shanghai for almost 9 years and lived in Beijing for 2 years prior to that and it is primarily our local friends who keep us here and who add value, significance, and meaning to our life here. Pay attention to who you surround yourself with. If you spend time with people who complain a lot and tend to focus on the negative, it is likely to have a negative influence on your own feelings.


Published by SmartShanghai, 2017