You’re Not Happy, You’re Distracted

Amy Chan no make up

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 flipside: 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 ourself, 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 bursted. 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 if 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 discover ways you can add to a baseline of happiness and contentment to balance  out that dichotomy of pleasure and joy.

50 Comments

  • Reply September 28, 2014

    Emilee

    I won’t write a big long story, I just wanted to express my thoughts about this awesome little blog like answer to happiness. I rarely find ppl that can write so well and keep me involved, I felt fulfilled after reading this. I have been really struggling with this so I googled the question ‘is happiness a distraction’ and your site came right up. This really answered the question that was waging in me, happiness is distraction, but how do I build up my joy so that I can make it through the still moments? I’ve always heard the saying/verse that my joy is in The Lord, and it is, but I am so uncontent with my life right now. Loved hearing your thoughts, thanks!

  • Reply December 18, 2014

    Ella

    I don’t know if you will see this but I wanted to thank you for this article and outlining the existing difference of joy and ”numbing” internal restlessness and issues with pleasure that does not last. I always trick myself into thinking I accessed this newfound stability within me, this happiness, this wholeness – whilst it is merely the residue product of one of those numbing pleasure actions.. such as shopping, blowing all my cash on items I do not need (or truly want).. spending a day with a friend (good or not). Distractions. That is all I do. When I am alone, there are moments where the numbness somewhat disperses, and it is as if my suppressed feelings get to ”breathe”, each breath they take absolutely destroys me. I suddenly have an awareness of how I am the root cause of losing the one person I truly loved. I begin feeling this physical sense of anxious fear, hopelessness, and other emotions which I cannot explain or describe (but it feels as if I am basically drowning on oxygen). I usually push it away, whenever I feel the ”suppressed” internal conflict arise. I push it away and dive back into numbness. I am not sure what is more horrible… living a lie build on temporary happiness and blankness or facing the pain I suppress. I know I walk with it, I carry it, but this veil of numbness makes me feel nothing. This haunting awareness of what is behind that delusional veil makes me shiver. The fear in moments where the suppressed pain is evoked drives me to reaching out to him.. It evokes every bit of regret, every move I made – every bit of drama I induced for no reason. And it hurts. It makes me despise myself. I feel like no one truly understands me, except him, how cliche it may be. I have no motivation to pursue actions necessary for my future – such as studying, keeping my health well.. I could go on an on.. whining, trying to figure it out and my hands are tired.

  • Reply March 8, 2015

    Zach

    Very insightful. Thank you

  • Reply July 28, 2015

    Rome

    Wow! this made me analyze lot of things… thanks!

  • Reply January 6, 2016

    nolan kean

    I somewhat have reached the same conclusion. I’m only happy when I don’t have to make any decisions and can distract myself with my daily routine.

  • Reply April 16, 2016

    Katrina

    This spoke so true to my current ponderings. Looking into the abyss of my experience, I am overwhelmed with the task of ‘being’ to expose joy and peace.

  • Reply July 3, 2017

    Kyle

    Did you write a follow-up?

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