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Colin Chen: A happy meal

The founder and creative director of The General Company shares about inner happiness in The Peak's Next Gen takeover.

The Peak’s Next Gen personalities take over to share personal stories close to their hearts – get to know all nine of them here.

 

When was the last time you checked in with your inner happiness? The rise of social media has set unrealistic expectations of life in our minds, presenting the carefully selected best parts of everyone else’s lives constantly at our fingertips, and then leading us to compare them to the negatives in our life. As depression and anxiety disorders become more commonplace, it’s hard to ignore the negative implications that highly curated feeds have on our state of mental health.

Don’t get me wrong, technology and digital innovations come with many merits. They have helped to decentralise power held by monopolistic companies, create entirely new economies overnight, change the way we operate businesses, liberalise media content, and even shape the face of politics.

I benefited greatly from the proliferation of technology. It allowed me to start my own businesses at a fairly young age, tap into the possibilities of a borderless economy, reach out to global audiences, harness data to make better decisions, build communities and, of course, pursue my passions. It’s truly been amazing. Yet, in this increasingly connected world, why is it that more and more people are feeling increasingly disconnected and less than happy?

In late 2018, I faced a hurdle some might relate to. A void developed inside of me and I came to the realisation that I was increasingly unhappy despite doing what I love. Success didn’t bring along the fulfilment like it used to and material possessions didn’t spark joy or excitement anymore.

Instead, constant comparisons clouded my focus and jealousy-inducing social feeds distracted me. I thought that if I had achieved more, it might fill that empty void and make me feel better. Over time, the unhealthy build-up of stress, anxiety, loneliness and self-doubt affected my mental health. Long work hours coupled with poor sleep quality and other personal struggles physically exhausted me. I knew then that I needed to change so that I could heal.

(Related: Anna Vanessa Haotanto: Thinking long term and investing in the uninvestable)

The path to recovery required me to take a few steps back in order to move forward. I needed to distance myself from the overwhelming negativity and information overload of our digital age. In the next couple of weeks that followed, I put together a plan with my other half to set off on a sabbatical break that would re-prioritise our lives, reshape our perspectives and guide us through our later years.

We set everything aside and booked a pair of Round The World tickets with hard-earned flight mileage chalked up over the years that would take us across continents, countries and cultures over the span of four months.

With our discovery hats on, a backpack and a suitcase each in tow, we navigated the different climates, basked in different cultures and sought new experiences that would help us re-evaluate our lifestyles and redefine our interpretation of happiness. But this was not a luxury vacation by any means. We travelled frugally and carefully rationed our expenses throughout the trip (I’d be happy to share specific details over a coffee or dram if anyone is interested).

As it turned out, living out of a suitcase for months teaches you a thing or two about life. We realised that when you drag yourself out of your comfort zone, you’ll discover what’s truly important and better appreciate all that you already have. You’ll also start to pay more attention to the moments that define your life. As you cut out the clutter, the clarity that follows will allow you to separate the nourishing needs from the frivolous wants. It’ll also help you make better decisions that will drive you forward on a more purposeful path, impacting the people around you and your community.

Looking back, some of the best experiences and most beautiful memories were free of charge. Some of the best meals we’ve had didn’t come from top-dollar kitchens but small, family-run restaurants full of heart. And some of the kindest, most inspiring people we’ve met didn’t really care about conforming to social norms or unrealistic expectations.

It doesn’t take much to be genuinely happy. All it takes is a small shift in perspective and being aware and mindful of our thoughts. Never let anyone and social media influence your definition of happiness and success. Focus on being more present. Surround yourself with people who support your cause and replace anxiety with patience.

Don’t rush to the destination, pay attention to the journey. Take one step at a time and allow your heart to be filled with even the smallest of wins. Maybe that’s the secret sauce to all those happy meals.

(Related: [Video] The Peak Next Gen Takeover: Get to know our guest columnists)