Happiness and Distractions: Here’s The Difference Between Them

To determine if you are truly happy, ask yourself this question...

Written by Amy C · 3 min read >
Happiness and Distractions: Here's The Difference Between Them - Heart Hackers Club - happiness - Amy Chan

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. I had to learn the true value of happiness.

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.

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Written by Amy C
Amy Chan is the Founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp, a retreat that takes a scientific and spiritual approach to healing the heart. Marie Claire calls her "A relationship expert whose work is like that of a scientific Carrie Bradshaw" and her company has been featured across national media including Good Morning America, Vogue, Glamour, Nightline along with the front page of The New York Times. Her book, Breakup Bootcamp - The Science of Rewiring Your Heart, published by Harper Collins, will be released Fall 2020. Profile

53 Replies to “Happiness and Distractions: Here’s The Difference Between Them”

  1. A good read. When my parents were young they didn’t have cell phones and the various electronics and distractions that are ubiquitous in our society today. Without our cell phones, most of us would go into “withdraw” much like opioid withdraw from drugs like heroin. Our lives are moving very fast and it’s unfortunate, sad, but true that we are so caught up with our day to day activities that we don’t ( or don’t know how to) slow down to analyze and appreciate the real things that makes us happy; not the new car, new shoes, new iPad, but the time we spend with those people that really matter to us, our loved ones, best friends, etc.

    It’s always tough, especially in the beginning of everything, because if everything in life were easy, then there would be no challenges, and without challenges there would be no progress to move forward.
    I’m glad you are finding yourself and figuring out how to find happiness beyond the materialistic possessions that we are familiar with. Stay strong C:

  2. “the house, the things, the relationship, the looks, the status”

    It worries me that relationships are lumped in with “things”. I think the relationships we build in our lives should be meaningful and important. I supposed it’s worthwhile to differentiate between a new lover and a lasting love/partnership/friendship that has been cultivated. Whereas the former can satiate for a time, the later can raise the baseline of joy in one’s life. And even when it ends, as all things do, it can still bring joy in that it was something worthwhile and that it happened.

    I moved from Montreal to California two years ago for the same reason. California is a good place to think about things like this since it seems to have so many fewer people that seem to. Good luck in your new community.

  3. You ask how would it be if I lost all. I guess like Job, in the Bible, right?

    Ok, I’ve never thought I was pretty. I don’t have to tie a pork chop on my neck to get a dog to play with me. I’ve just never thought of myself as “hot.” Nothing to lose there.

    I got divorced about 13 years ago from a husband who promised his lawyer father would “not just take me to the mat, but through the floor and into the basement where he would slap me around a little.” We had four children and the accoutrements of ten years together. I was afraid I might not even have a car to sleep in. He let me keep the one with 4 years of payments still left on it. I landed on my feet, wobbly, but standing. So, lost everything, check. Ok, not everything, I still had the car and my clothes and all the marketable skills one has with ten years of experience as a “housewife.”

    I cried every night the kids weren’t with me because I missed them and every night they were with me because I knew the time would come when they wouldn’t be again. It was like having them die and resurrect on a bi-weekly schedule, repeatedly. I also occasionally had boyfriends who would undermine what little self-esteem I had so that the few precious moments with my kids that I wasn’t mourning their coming departure I spent in anguish over “him.” Having my “happiness dependent on another?” I’m sure you’ve heard, “Been There . . .” Yeah, I burned that T-shirt.

    About 9 years ago I decided to end it. I don’t mean my life; I mean the way I was just enduring it until I could be released from it by natural causes. I dropped the last boyfriend who made me feel crappy about me. And the next one after that, I’m proud to say it didn’t take me as long as the previous one. I decided it was better to feel lonely because I was alone than feel lonely because I was with someone who was just holding on because they didn’t want to be alone themselves and I was better than nothing. I decided it was better to BE with my children for the time I had them instead of mourning their passing while they still lived. I decided it was better to tell a truth with potentially horrific consequences than hide behind lies which usually necessitated more lies.

    That last part was really intoxicating. The first time you fear the unknown like it’s worse than death. Then it gets to be more like a roller coaster you almost wet yourself on. After a while you realize that you do it automatically and others respect that integrity like you’ve done something heroic. Really being the hero of your own story is great. I don’t mean Walter Mitty hero of your own story. This isn’t the Showered-uh-in-the-Glory-uh-of-Wah,” heroism. I mean the simple heroism of just getting crap done with as little fanfare and bellyaching as possible and taking pride in that.

    I met a great man, a real man. We got married. We forged a life and the recession hit. That’s when my ex-husband who made 5x what I did got an order for child support. When unemployment ran out I couldn’t afford child support anymore so I went to jail. I was in my early 40’s. It was the first time I had ever been in a jail that wasn’t a school field trip. I was not just terrified, I was humiliated. The toilet in the holding cell where I was kept had a 2×3 foot window through which not only males cops, but also male detainees could casually observe. That was, somehow, worse that the idea I might get shanked.

    The first real delusion I had totally blown in my life actually came then. Without much discussion about it, any time one of us had to use this “facility” the rest of us stood around her. We protected the dignity of other women, whose sins we did not know; we were sisters in a weird way. I had a history of migraines and one kicked in not long after the cop put me in the back of the patrol car. I asked, many times, for someone to call my doctor or pharmacist. Regular pain meds don’t work on me. Morphine doesn’t work on me, I still feel it. Aspirin was not going to help. I had to be asleep. Did you know that Benadryl is a schedule one in jail? I couldn’t even have that. I was held for over 60 hours without bail, without relief. It was so bad at one point my nose was bleeding and I wasn’t entirely conscious. I do remember that the guard came over, determined to his satisfaction that I wasn’t dying, and offered Aspirin, nothing else. That’s when the second Big Delusion got completely obliterated. You know how we are all told that inmates are bad, dangerous people with no decency? They all have cable and a gym that we would have to pay for andit’sallfreeandisn’tthatSCANDALOUS? After the guard walked away, because I was, after all, just another piece of human flotsam it was his job to ride herd on for 40 hours a week, one of my Weird Sisters approached me. She asked my permission to pray for me. She didn’t assume. She didn’t decide what was best for me, as if I didn’t have any personal directive or self ownership. She asked my permission to do a kindness for me. When I agreed she formed a circle around me with some of our fellow scraps of disposable humanity and they prayed for me. When all the “decent folk” had passed judgment on me as being not worth the effort, the ones left, the ones that law abiding citizens turned their backs on as being not worthy of basic consideration, gave what they could.

    The migraine, which had been an occasional inconvenience turned into something chronic after that. Apparently, having to try to find a job in a recession isn’t tough enough. Trying to work 40 hours a week, in constant pain, with a jail record was the litmus I had to pass. I’m on disability now. I make less than half what I did when I worked. Even with medication there are still nights I don’t sleep at all because I can’t, the pain simply won’t allow it. Tonight is one such. Two of the four kids live with me because they can’t bring themselves to be happy in their father’s house. The other two don’t speak to me, at all. I miss them like my next breath.

    I still have that great guy I met when I decided to be alone rather than be someone’s Better-Than-Nothing. Rather, we have each other. It’s a struggle but we make jokes and try to figure a way out. We draw; some folks have told us we should get a publisher. We’re working on it. If it doesn’t pan out, we’ll struggle ’til we die, but we won’t be bitter about it. We love each other a lot. The kids who live w/ us call him dad and tell him living in his house, w/ no money and no expensive diversions is happier than the life they had before. That life had money and nice clothes and vacations. This life has filling out FAFSA paperwork because we don’t have a college fund for them. That life had, at least the appearance of an intact family. Here we ache for the members that are missing. I got the chance to speak to one of them recently. She hugged me but then told me later she wasn’t ready to resume a relationship with me. I touch that wound every now and then to see if it still hurts. It always does. I don’t enjoy the pain. I just want the wound to be healed by reconciliation, not amnesia.

    You speak of distractions instead of happiness. Sometimes those distractions can be a salvation. Sometimes they can be the path to stillness. If you sit beside a calm pond, by all means, lay aside your game of angry birds and just watch the reflection of clouds as they move across the surface of the water. If you find yourself walking through a war zone you can duck and roll for cover or you can close your eyes and sing as you walk through it upright. You won’t be contemplating stillness. You might be able to look like you are, but you won’t be.

    So, how to find happiness? Start by owning yourself. Sounds oddly simple but if you’ve ever had to overcome sexual molestation at an early age or the feeling that you were born the wrong sex, or whatever keeps you from recognizing the person in the mirror as being the person who belongs to none but you, you know what I mean. After that, you do what you have to get by. Then, if you still have resources left, do what wants doing. If, by some miracle, you still have the wherewithal to pursue a pleasure or two and a moment of stillness, enjoy the fact you actually live in the first world realistically, not just geographically. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for it. Give yourself permission to grieve the passing of that which you miss, then let it pass. Don’t wallow, but don’t assume that all tears are rank self indulgence. Use your judgement to keep yourself as safe as you can be in a crazy world, but don’t be judgmental. Not everyone in a bad situation deserves to be there, no, not even if it looks like they are being self-destructive. If you’ve never been taught how to drive a tank, you can’t teach someone else. Many people were born to folks that weren’t men and women, so where would they have learned how to be adults themselves? They don’t really know there is another way to live that would still allow them to be true to themselves. I know that. I learned it the hard way. Learning new and less self destructive habits isn’t “fronting,” it’s evolving. But if you’ve spent your whole life whistling past graveyards, it’s hard to hear that message over your own whistling. That doesn’t mean you should be the one to try to rescue them either. I did say use your judgment to be safe. Don’t date a boy, if you are ready for a man. Just don’t hate that boy for not being able to be the man you need. Even if it looks like he’s choosing it. He may be pushing the buttons but someone else installed them.

    We are not dogs or cattle but we are social creatures. We need society. Few of us are cut out to be hermits. You don’t have to crush a mad parade of parties and dates and lunches into every waking moment but wanting to be hugged at the end of the day isn’t an obstacle to happiness. It’s one of the goals. It’s part of the process. I’m sure you’ve heard happiness isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. That’s true.

    And now, I can’t really think clearly any more. I’m at the end of anything like articulate. I still can’t sleep and I have 6 hours left before I’m supposed to pull myself together enough to get my husband to work so I can be at the Women’s Center, where I volunteer, on time. Stillness just leaves me with nothing but the pain to focus on. I think I will find some not very difficult video game to distract myself with until it becomes 100% certain that coffee is the only answer left or I start nodding off in spite of my expectations. Or decide to see what gems I haven’t yet plumbed from youtube. You can find a lot of stand-up there and I love comedy. Good night. I hope you find what you are looking for. Even better, I hope that when you do, you discover something else worth seeking.

    1. Thank you Stacey,ill pray for you and yours tonight. You have brought me great courage to keep fighting with your words. Nightfall is always new & last rose as red as the first.

  4. “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?”

    This question needs more refinement. How much of all are you asking about? Material things? Sentimental things? Abilities? Activities? Memories? Personality? It seems the more we shave off, the less of me I become. All these things I have in my life are part of my life, they define me, and shape all aspects of my life. If you take away anything I’m going to lose potential joy (more than mere distraction). This holds true for even material things, things people might consider shallow. If you took away my access to all mp3 players, I would personally suffer a significant reduction in joy. I actively listen to at least an hour of music a day, and other 2-3 hrs as background to other activities. I really enjoy this part of my life, it defines me, and intrinsically makes me happy. Taking that away that mp3 player (or phone, or whatever), would be a reduction of me as a person.

    At what point do you shave things away such that you’ve established you’re so called “baseline of joy?” What do you consider joy and what is not joy? If you literally took away everything (except my life) and stuck my in a prison cell with nothing, I would certainly not be as joyful. Maybe over time I might learn to live with it, the human brain is pretty amazing, but I wouldn’t be the same person, and I wouldn’t consider it as fulfilling as a life.

  5. Wow. Contemplating a move to CA from NYC (been here 15 years), and feeling ALL of these things. I found your site while doing some reading on how the people in our lives affect us – specifically found your article on “Who you Surround Yourself With, You Become.”

    I really, really dug into your Joy concept. I’m going to carry that around with me this week and see what happens.


  6. What an interesting read. I feel exactly the same way about people who claim to be “happy”. I can recognise that they are all “happy” because nothing has gone terribly wrong in their lives and they are always super busy and planning weekend trips etc. I lost my mother 5 months ago and it totally forced me to think about life and what the true meaning of happiness is. I’m in this new (real) state of mind while all the people around me in my industry are talking about how much they love each other’s clothes – shallow talk. These people look at me and say “you look so upset, you’re so unhappy”. My reply to them is, “you’re not happy, you’re just well distracted”. They waltz about as if life is eternal or something.They look at me puzzled and conclude that I’m walking around with a dark cloud over my head but none of these people stop to think for a second just how consumed they are by material things day in and day out. Losing somebody whether it be to death or the loss of a relationship forces you to realise just how dependant people are on material things, status, the company of someone else etc. I won’t lie, I am a bit lost now that I’ve tuned into how degenerative life really is while everyone else around me prances through life without a thought given to anything that should be obvious like life only being so short so find the true meaning of happiness. How do I distract myself from always thinking about life being so temporary and degenerative and the fact that I will never see my mother again? These thoughts feel like they’re with me to stay. I can’t do anything that used to be fun anymore without constantly telling myself “what’s the point in enjoying this, it’s only a distraction”.

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  8. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you design this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for
    you? Plz respond as I’m looking to create my own blog and would like to find out where u got this from.

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