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  • Writer's pictureAya

Is your glass “half-full” or “half-empty”?

Updated: Nov 2, 2019

When you live in a foreign country, you sometimes find what you don’t have in the host country and miss all those wonderful items you could find in your home country.

I have those items too.

I miss clean and punctual public transportation systems, high quality services, “con-bini” (convenience stores where you can buy reasonable and tasty snacks and foods) and depa-chika (basement floor in department stores where you can find wonderful delicatessens), tasty vegetables and fruits, hot springs, cherry blossoms (with beer in public parks!), and more.

When you miss those nice things from your home country, you are seeing your glass being “half-empty”. Because you see “what you don’t have”.

Imagine if you feel your glass is “half-empty”, what do you think your attitude would be? You might tend to complain about what you don’t have. And you might hope the situation would be different. You might be sad and/or upset about the situation where you are. Sometimes you might find what you have in the host country is less valuable and not as good. If you have the feeling about the situation where you are, your idea about the country would be negative and your attitude about the country would be negative as well.

However, it is OK to feel that way.

There is no “right” or “wrong” way of seeing your situation, and a lot of people miss what they used to have. In the <Feeling Homesick> blog, I mentioned that one part of our brain, limbic system, gives comfort and safe feeling toward things familiar. So familiar sceneries, noises, smells, and objects seem “better” in your brain. And it is normal to feel that way. Our brain has evolved that way. It’s built in our DNA.

With understanding and acceptance thinking “half-empty” is OK, it is also true that IT IS YOUR CHOICE TO SAY IT’S “HALF-EMPTY” OR “HALF-FULL” when you see a glass with water 50% of its capacity. Both of the phrases are correct. But it is also true that you can choose your perception of the situation.

What would happen if you see, feel, and believe your glass is “half-full”?

You would find what you have in the host country. And you can appreciate them. You start to see the value of different things.

I found the fall foliage in the North Eastern part of the USA is gorgeous. We have fall foliage in Japan as well, but it’s different. I truly believe both of them are wonderful and I can’t say which is better or worse. But I feel the fall foliage here is purely beautiful and I enjoy it very much. Also, a variety of organic foods is much wider and accessibility of organic products in the States are much higher than in Japan. We can enjoy outdoor dining (on our deck) more here and it’s great. I found children can be children for a longer period of time and they can enjoy being children, and it’s one of the best parts of living in the USA.

Again, it is your choice to say “my glass is half-full” or “my glass is half-empty”. So a question would be “which phrase do you tend to feel and use?” “And which WOULD YOU LIKE to feel and use?”

Now I admire and value what we used to have, and enjoy when we visit there. One thing my children are looking forward to having when we visit Japan is going to a con-bini and choose ONE item from the store. Con-bini is a paradise for them with so many candies, snacks, desserts and more. There are convenience stores in the States as well, but the quality and variety of Japanese con-bini are so good there that my children say they can even live in there! So we enjoy Japanese con-bini a lot. But we don’t complain that there is no Japanese con-bini in the States. Instead, we have a nice backyard in our house in the US. It’s not comparable and it’s OK. We don’t need to compare and/or evaluate each. Both of them are valuable as they are.

You might feel you understand that it is your choice to say if your glass is “half-full” or “half-empty”, However, it might be difficult to believe and/or feel that your glass is “half-full”. It is very normal to feel difficulty. Like I wrote in <Feeling Homesick>, it’s our brain that controls the idea. And your brain has a long history of valuing what you are familiar with. Also, it was very important to value familiarity in human history. However, you also have another part of the brain, prefrontal cortex. You have to be conscious to use prefrontal cortex. For example, when you learned how to drive, your prefrontal cortex was in full power. You had to see the front and mirrors (center, right, and left!), hold a steering wheel, and choose which pedal to press at the same time. You might be in panic (I was), and it might be a big challenge for a while. After having enough practices, you might find driving not as scary as it used to be. Probably it would be less stressful. Because you have learned all the driving techniques long enough, your limbic system takes over the action. And it has become natural!

If you tend to feel “half-empty” but would like to feel more “half-full”, you need to use your prefrontal cortex. Your limbic system gives you a signal saying “It’s half-empty. Your glass is missing 50% amount of water”. The first step for you is to realize that you are receiving the signal from your limbic system. Next, you remember to use your prefrontal cortex and train yourself to think “It’s half-full. There are many valuable things here”. It takes time, but every time when you realize that your limbic system is giving the familiar message, remind your prefrontal cortex to give the new message. Finally, just like driving, your brain will get used to thinking “half-full” and it becomes your normal.

Is your glass “HALF-FULL” or “HALF-EMPTY”?


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