This year, I uprooted from Vancouver and moved to California in order to further pursue my career. I went from having a community of friends, family and colleagues that I spent 31 years of my life building, to a city where I had zero friends, zero reputation, and zero invites on the weekends. It's been challenging. There have been moments where I felt completely and utterly alone. When at the end of an intense and emotionally exhausting day, I'd give anything for a hug from someone I loved. I've spent my entire life in Vancouver with a filled schedule of activities, events and company, and for the first time in my life, I had to learn how to be alone.
In my discomfort of being alone, I've started to thinking about happiness, and what being happy truly means. I've concluded that our society has confused the definition of happiness with pleasure.
Pleasure exists when you "have" something -- status, the high from a new lover, the rush when you buy something new. Our media promotes a culture of chasing pleasure. What they don't show you is that the pleasure felt when you consume and indulge is fleeting.
Some pleasures last longer than others. But for the most part, when you no longer have that source of pleasure, you experience the flip-side: pain. For example, you are "happy" when the apple of your eye returns your affections. But then you are ridden in angst and pain when that attention is gone.
Pleasure cannot exist without pain. To alleviate the pain, we distract, medicate and satiate ourselves so that we fill the gaps and quickly move on to the next source of pleasure. We keep chasing. Similarly to how a cocaine user relies on the next hit to prolong the high, we hustle for pleasure and push off the pain. But, inevitably, it catches up to us.
Instead of chasing pleasure, I think it's important we start thinking about how we can build joy. Joy is something that is not dependent on one person or thing. Joy is lasting, it is an energy. It is a sense of peace, which does not disappear even if you lose your job, your money and your material things. It is a baseline of contentment, of calm, of gratitude, of empowerment, fulfillment and love. By no means am I saying to abstain from the things that provide pleasure; rather, I suggest you understand the difference, so you don't get caught up in a insatiable appetite of pleasure seeking.
When we are not conscious of the difference between pleasure and joy, we live in a "happiness" bubble. Our day to day is filled with "stuff" -- meetings, deals, social media, hustle, vices, and so forth. We don't allow ourselves a moment to be still -- to be "bored." Because in the moment where there is no noise, we face having to be with our self, and often, that moment makes us realize how lonely and unfulfilled we really are.
Consequently, we are seeing a generation becoming more disconnected, unfulfilled and distracted than ever before. And they have no idea why because there are no quiet moments left in order to reflect, and ask the self those hard questions, let alone the time to discover the answer.
Being alone in this city has given me the time and space to contemplate this. In a sense, my bubble burst. I'm recognizing the unhealthy habits I've created to distract myself from being still. Heck, I can't even bear waiting at a stoplight without the urge to check Instagram.
I'm learning that true happiness is joy. And the barometer of joy is an ability to find peace in stillness -- to not have attention, distractions, accolades and a reliance on the energy of others in order to make me feel "full." I'm on a journey to re-learn some of my ways of living, and to retrain myself with small daily habits that will feed my spirit and ability to be present.
How will I achieve this? I don't really know. But I do know that the behaviors you repeat become habit, and habits become norms. And I don't want my everyday normal to be a life where I'm addicted to being satiated, where my phone takes priority over the person in front of me, where my mind is constantly divided, and I'm deathly afraid of being still.
I'll end off with a question to you. To determine if you are truly happy, ask yourself, if you were to lose it all -- the house, the things, the relationship, the looks, the status... would you still have a baseline of joy inside you? What are you left with when all the external variables are taken away? Is your happiness contingent on a person, a place or a thing? If so, you may want to do discover ways you can add to a baseline of happiness and contentment to balance out that dichotomy of pleasure and joy.
Amy Chan is a relationship and lifestyle columnist and founder of justmytype.ca, where this piece first appeared.