Fulfillment vs. Pleasure-Seeking; Solitude vs. Loneliness – Finding the Better of Both

“At the core of her senseless actions, she vaguely perceived that she yearned for something. A something that would provide her with a sure sense of fulfillment. But she could not fathom what that something might be.”
― Shūsaku EndōDeep River

It is the last day of my writing retreat and I sit here, next to a picturesque window, the lake spans out next to me in about three hundred different shades of blue-grey, the grass is still green despite it being the last week of November and it is lightly frosted with white, the skeleton of bare branches reach into the sky and I feel serene. We are in silent time and there is nothing but the sounds of others deep in thoughts, sipping their tea or coffee, their pens scribbling away. It is the first time in November that the crushing loneliness does not threaten to overtake me, even though I am silent amongst others. I feel more whole than I do when I am with a multitude of people speaking and laughing. This is also the first time where I feel like I understand what it means to be lonely in this day and age, and what it means to be fulfilled.

See, I had experienced some of my worst depression this year at the beginning of the month, it was hard to see what was worth “it”, or what would make me feel whole. After the high of October, filled with Halloween parties, work events, dates, and other pleasure seeking activities, the quiet, dark blanket of November seemed oppressive. And this blanket always makes me face myself.

I tried filling this depression, this void, with friends, with ‘self-care’: I tried not-drinking; I tried drinking too much; I tried smoking weed; I tried not-smoking-weed; I tried staying in on the weekend, and I worked out, ate healthy, all of that good stuff. But you see, depression doesn’t work that way, I still physically struggled to get out of bed for work, my muscles ached, my mind was in a fog of “what is the point?”

If you know me, this may seem out of character, for I do hide it well, and I have a genuine sunny disposition and it is hard for me to not smile or be happy, social conditioning? Maybe. Between trying all these different methods I realized I just needed to confront what I was feeling and what was going on within me. I felt like I needed a relationship, I felt like I needed wealth and success (new MacBook, maybe?), or to go to the next best party, or to sleep with that guy.

So, I do what I always do and I Googled how I was feeling. I read an article online that lifted me out of this weird cycle of self-pity, and the main thing it asked was, “What is the REAL reason you want these things?” (I will link the two I read below)

And, this is where I learned about pleasure-seeking. Pleasure seeking is that dopamine rush you get when you get that “Like” or “Follow” on Instagram; it’s when you go to that party or concert and get on stage with the DJ; it’s when you go home with the bad boy/girl; it’s when you buy that new shirt, or those hot new runners that people line up out of Footlocker for; it’s that initial rush when you book that flight to that sunny locale. And it’s also that constant chase for that feeling, it’s that Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), fear that there is something, someone, somewhere better. It’s that feeling you get when all you want to do is recreate and chase that feeling, again and again, because man, it feels so fucking good and that’s what life is about, right?

You could say I am an expert pleasure seeker. I fucking love anything pleasurable. Maybe it’s because I didn’t get enough love in my childhood, maybe it’s because I have problems finding fulfillment, maybe it’s because I fear not “feeling good”, maybe it’s the global economy and that I’ll never own a house, or that we live in a social media world where everything is pleasure seeking. Maybe it’s all of the above. Whatever it is for you, or for me, I believe it is a generational, millenial, or technological issue, where we equate pleasure to fulfillment.

But it’s not.

Fulfillment. Wow, how can I write about this when I am not even there yet? But I feel like I can because I have learned what it is that I want for myself to feel fulfilled. It’s not getting drunk every weekend; it’s not owning new clothes, or having 2000+ Instagram followers (is that even a lot anymore?). For me, it’s being my own boss, it’s being a voice about social issues, and it’s connecting with my friends in a genuine, caring way. It’s creating something worth sharing. It’s sitting and reading a book that let’s me connect with characters in other worlds, it’s sitting having a cup of coffee in silence, it’s putting in the work to finish my writing my book, it’s finishing school and getting the degree that’s taken me seven years just to go back to finish. It’s not sleeping with that guy who is so unattainable and that I believe I can ‘fix’, it’s not feeling like crap from a hangover and bad decisions every weekend (I am not knocking partying, I love it but everything in moderation, you know?), and it’s not about that empty gnawing feeling that is universal within all of us, that asks, “What am I doing? What’s the point? What’s wrong with me?”

This leads me to my other tangent. I had a lovely talk with one of the women here about loneliness vs. solitude, and being here in a group of 16, where we have spoken this weekend for maybe a total of seven hours, and the rest were spent in silence writing, or listening to each other’s work, is that loneliness is the feeling I get in the city. It’s the feeling I get when I go on Instagram or Facebook and chase that feeling of connection… how can I connect to others when I haven’t connected to myself?

And here, I am surrounded in silence and yes, I am alone but I am not lonely. I have found solitude, I have found peace in being silent, in having my phone off all weekend, I have found fulfillment. In our world of super-connectivity we are not even truly connecting anymore, I know it’s been said before and will continue to be said but how can we be constantly reaching outwards to connect when we do not go inwards to connect with ourselves?

So many times, I hear my friends and people I know say that they are lonely or unfulfilled or that they don’t know what they are doing with their lives… and I think the problem is that we have been taught, through consumerism/capitalism, media, social media, and society, that our fulfillment will come from an external source. Through Instagram we have externalized our fulfillment and pleasure seeking, posting only the best of ourselves, presenting who we wish we were or who we think others want us to be; through consumerism we are constantly buying new trends to feel in, to feel like we are our relevant; and through our phones, we are constantly texting, talking to multiple people at once but when do we take the time to sit, truly sit, with no distractions and connect with each other? And, when, in this busy, busy world, do we sit and connect with ourselves?

It is so important for us to be alone, to connect with our inner selves, to take the time and ask ourselves: “What does fulfillment mean to me?” and not turn to the buzzing of our latest notification. This will look different for everyone, for me, it was meditation and writing. I truly believe that meditation, and journaling has made me a better person, and has given me the ability to self-reflect, be self-aware and also, be a better connector, better at listening and truly connecting with others, and with the universe/myself/a higher power. It also is turning my phone on airplane mode and giving myself time to be away from the constant nag of “something else”. Trust me, I have a long way to go and I am not saying I am there but I want to share my thoughts and self-revelations. Hopefully, anything I said may help your own journey on this wild ride called life.

Don’t Forget to Appreciate How Far You’ve Come

This post originally appeared on TinyBuddha.com as a guest post. 

“Remember how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be.” ~Rick Warren

We’re always talking about how we should live in the now and “be present.” We shame ourselves for looking back at the past or into the future, thinking that we shouldn’t look too far ahead or worry about what’s to come, and we shouldn’t get too caught up in events that have already happened. We want to be focused on being the best person we can be right now.

We often forget, though, that it’s possible to look at our past with love, not ruminating in it but appreciating it. We’re often so focused on living in the present that we forget to be mindful of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.

You could say that I’m a bit of a productivity addict. I love doing things that are beneficial to me in some way. I love the feeling of doing something positive or productive for myself, whether it’s squeezing in that extra thirty-minute yoga practice or ten-minute meditation, or listening to podcasts or reading the news instead of watching TV. I get so caught up with being a “better version of me” that I forget to appreciate my current version.

Last week when I was walking to work, listening to lines to practice for an audition, I felt this sense of pride.

I had always wanted to be an actress growing up. It was my dream to be able to transform into a different character and tell a story through film or television. I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my career, but how cool was it that I was actually doing it? I was going to auditions and training with teachers and acting—something that I had dreamed of since I was a kid.

This realization then snowballed into this moment where I looked at my life and said to myself, “Wow, I’ve done all these things and I’m living a life I’ve always wanted.”

I began to list in my mind the things I have accomplished: I moved away from my home city, a place I hated; I’ve traveled to many different countries and even seen the pyramids; I went back to school and pursued a career in the arts; I continue to work toward making my childhood dreams come true…

I realized that I sometimes get so caught up with my big dreams, like being a published author or working actress that I forget to recognize all the little dreams I’ve made come true!

Even writing this I feel a bit embarrassed. A lot of the times it can feel like we’re bragging or that we don’t have a right to be proud of the things we’ve done. Maybe we have this feeling that we shouldn’t be proud of the things we’ve accomplished because we aren’t where we want to be.

But for a daughter of a single mother who moved to Canada as a Vietnamese refugee, I’ve come far, and it’s important to recognize that.

I recently said this out loud to my therapist, but it was different from how it felt in my mind. I had said it to myself with pride, but it didn’t really settle in how big that feeling was, to recognize my own journey and how far I’ve come.

When I said to my therapist, I was also speaking it to my deeper self. I felt it in my soul.

I said it to my younger self—the preteen, bullied girl who rode the train back and forth to avoid school. I said it to my early twenties, addicted self, and I said it to my current self: look at the things you’ve made happen.

When we speak to our deeper selves and feel this connection with our past, this recognition of our journey, it can be groundbreaking. I had never felt that proud of myself, or that impressed with myself before. I cried and felt this amazing gratitude for my life, my own resilience, and most of all, myself.

And again, it can feel so weird to go there, to try to find something to be proud of or to just be proud of where we are. So, how about we do that check-in with ourselves?

How about we look at the past to appreciate it? How about we appreciate our own journeys? Our own resilience? How about we look at the places we’ve been, the relationships we’ve formed, the things we’ve achieved, not with regret or the longing of “if only” or “what ifs” or “I wish I was still there,” but “Wow, I did that? That’s where I used to be? That’s pretty cool.”

We can get so caught up looking at where we should be, where we aren’t, and where others are in comparison that we forget to appreciate where we’ve been and where we’ve come from.

This was the first time it really hit me how big this is, and how important it is to celebrate my progress. I felt like I had a true sense of perspective on life as a whole, from the triumphs to the failures, from obstacles to mistakes to perfect coincidences.

It’s amazing that we’re all living and growing, trying to be the best we can be and moving forward every day. It’s a beautiful thing to be mindful of the present, but don’t forget to honor yourself, your past, and how far you’ve come. Odds are, it’s further than you think.