The True Pursuit of Happiness lies in rebuilding our Community and Social Interactions

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By Tatiana Zamorano-Henriquez*

Photos by Syed Mustafa*

My background is Chilean-Canadian and having a Chilean family the values and morals that many Chileans have are profoundly rooted in family, social interactions and relationships. In the older generations of Chilean culture the collective and community was what bonded people together and was always cherished over individualist aspects of life and over the work life. An example of this in Chile that still occurs is the entire city shuts down for dinnertime. The workplaces close and people are given an hour to two hours to go home and sit down with family friends and coworkers and are encouraged to socialize over a meal. This system in Chile is a structure that promotes and inspires social interactions and forging social ties to fortify the sense of community, and although Chile’s structure has evolved and has been influenced by consumerist and individualist ideals from North America it still holds true to this system where social interactions and community is of central importance and as a result, sense of belonging and community has not dissipated in Chile and these principles can be found across the country. Thus, these ideals that made these interactions and community priority were always a part of my life.

When I was young my days were filled with love, laughter, stories and endless conversations, these days were the happiest days of my life. Growing up I was encompassed by my family, we lived in East Vancouver on Venables Street in a vintage white house bordered with a light blue trim. I remember it as if it was only yesterday, walking up the blue steps of the house I opened the giant wooden door to my grandparents house, I remember my heart was always filled with happiness and excitement, the moment that my hand met the door handle because I knew that on the other side there were new stories waiting for me when I arrived, and new people that I would meet. My grandparents have always been very loving people and for this reason they never locked the door to our house because it was a place where all were welcome and a place filled with life and no sense of time. In the house amongst my uncles and my brother I was the only young girl. I grew up with my three uncles my brother my grandparents and my parents all living in the same house I guess you could say this was my version of  “full house”. As I walked through the house, I vividly recall that feeling of joy that I felt in my heart when I arrived to the dining room and saw the dining room table filled with people. As, I made my way around to my seat I would go around the table greeting those who filled the spaces. Here in this one room the table was encircled by an array of people from family to new faces, my uncles and brothers friends, my friends, people visiting from afar, my grandparents neighbors and my parents that were all congregated in this one place and it was where everyone came together. I remember my grandfathers voice and the passion that he emanated when he spoke and the hand gestures that he used to express his opinions values and stories, I recall my uncles, my brother and their friends constant laughter and conversations of their families, their daily interactions and the various adventures they would go on, I recall my neighbors talking to my grandfather about fishing and the next “big catch” they would also talk about their children and seek advice from my parents. Also, many times there were visitors from faraway places they always brought gifts and pictures and new stories and cultures. The time spent in conversation in this house was endless my family and I did not believe in time so much so that at times these conversations would go on until the next mornings. I recall that sometimes, I would wait before I entered the room and I would watch everyone in the room it was full of life, knowledge, wisdom and teachings, full of people connecting and bonding to one another through conversations and I would stop to relish in this moment and listen to the multiplicity of discussions occurring all at once, they made me feel happy but a type of happiness that you feel in your soul, it is warm, loving, caring and nurturing it was a happiness of home, community and belonging. However, somewhere along the way this feeling would only become a distant memory.

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Weekly Team Meeting at Vancouver Arts Colloquium Society

As I sat in our Vancouver arts Colloquium society meeting I found myself at a table surrounded by different people with various stories, opinions thoughts and ideas and instantly I was lost in their chatter and their voices, that transported me back in time to my youth and reconnected me to this feeling of profound social interactions that create a deep sense of community and overwhelming happiness. In my moment of revelation I thought back to these instants in my life and asked myself what happened? Where had this sense of community and belonging gone? Why had it faded and why had these social interactions dissipated? What changed in our society that disconnected us from each other and made us forget the importance of social ties and community, and why would we let go of something so important and beautiful that united people on all levels and created contentment in the lives of everyone? I carried these thoughts with me throughout and after the meeting and decided I wanted answers to these questions and I wanted to further investigate this loss of community with the hope of uncovering what had occurred to abruptly erase these vital social relationships. Therefore, I wanted to get others opinions and perspectives on this topic and what better way to do this than by having a conversation at a communal coffee shop with an almost complete stranger named Chris Kay. I say “almost stranger” as I had been introduced to Chris Kay briefly for the first time at our VACS meeting through our Executive Director Keiko Honda, who connected me with Chris in hopes that I would find answers to my questions of community, belonging and social isolation. 

Screen Shot 2017-01-28 at 6.29.17 PMEntering the Lokal Café on west 4th I walked in to find a vibrant community within this café, I was surrounded by the discussions of all the people present, a diverse sound of interactions that were almost musical. As, I ordered my hot chocolate snap shots of my childhood ran through my mind as I could feel that overwhelming exhilaration of community and belonging run through me. I sat down at a seat by the window waiting for Chris anxiously to hear his thoughts and ideas of community and a lack there of. When he arrived we greeted one another Chris ordered his coffee and he instantly joined me at my table and our conversation immediately took off. I asked Chris to tell me a little bit about himself and how and why he had gotten involved with community, Chris explained 

“ I was born in California and lived in various parts of the United states, I immigrated to Canada after I finished my undergraduate in Florida and one thing that attracted me to Vancouver was the opportunity to build community in Vancouver because I had friends that lived here already and I was very much attracted to the built form of the city as well as the fact that in Canada there is not a lot of an emphasis on building community, and I ultimately felt a little bit rootless in the US both because I moved around a lot and also because from a political standpoint I felt it was more individualist than I wanted so when I came to Vancouver I came to it with the intention of making it my home and so that was sort of the origin of me getting involved in community work in Vancouver, it was that I wanted not only  to make it my home but I wanted to promote sorts of values that attracted me to living here” 

This was interesting to hear as Chris also associated sense of community with family, home and a sense of belonging that he was also in search of, a sense of home that similar to myself had also escaped him. His search for this loss of social ties has driven him to want to build a sense of community where we all felt this deeply seeded sense of belonging, a community that he envisions is based on a fundamental criteria that he always returns to and defined as

 “The idea that everyone has a part, I find that that from that principal the other aspects of community tend to fall out naturally, its about inclusiveness a sense that everyone who is their belongs to that group, … and I think that ultimately this is what we are trying to get out of community a sense of belonging as its pretty fundamental to humans.”  

This is the sense of belong that I to believe is crucial in sustaining the apparatus of community a communal sense of belong and inclusivity that fuses people to one another and creates a system in which individuals become concerned with the collective and not the individual self. Hence, from these social ties the communal quality of humanity that is innate in every human being is ignited and I firmly believe that this concept of inclusivity and belonging is a necessary stepping-stone in reconnecting with one another. In addition, I asked Chris why he felt people had become so apprehensive and why had interacting with one another become such an arduous process he described  

“I think we are naturally apprehensive to other people particularly when we are in a large group or a large urban setting…I think people in Vancouver are reticent they are a little bit afraid of what direction it might go or if talking to a random stranger wont pan out and … I think social media has a part to play too technology has made people more isolated because there social interactions have become so much more geared towards telephones and communicating through technology.” 

Through Chris’s words and in this moment of conversation I realized, that there was a common denominator that kept reoccurring in our conversation and it was individualism and urbanization, which are a direct result of the system and structure that we reside in. It was here where I uncovered the reason behind the prominent disconnect in social relationships and community was that as society had evolved the framework that we lived in developed into one where individualism, consumerism and profit had and has conditioned us to become anti social, especially through technology. These ideals along with these industrial advances have created a society that communicates through technology i.e. text messages, internet etc. and focuses solely on cyber interactions with people that we already know, it does not promote face to face interaction so instead what is created are superficial relationships between human beings, hindering the processes of community and promoting social isolation. Thus, the system that we live in has trained us to forget how to socialize with one another and has tainted social interaction with inappropriateness, which has associated negativity to social interactions so people refrain from interacting.

Similarly, it has worked to commodify time which has influenced people to believe that there is no time to smell the roses, that there is no time to meet people and socialize and that these conversations and social ties will distract them from their end goal of wealth and prosperity. The system has worked to change the morals and values of people and through this process social interactions have slowly been erased. This fact that time has also been transformed into a commodity, is crucial to consider as we have been acclimatized to rush through life and it has been ingrained in us that time is of the essence, that the pursuit of happiness lies not truly in happiness but in rapidly going through life in order to obtain a structured life that is associated with individualism and wealth which will supposedly make you happy. However, when we associate happiness and growth to wealth and individualism eventually wealth runs out and you realize that money can only buy happiness for a short time. It is here where many people find themselves alone and it is in this instant when they realize that what truly brings profound happiness and a sense of belonging are the people you meet along your life journey and that the interactions that take you there are what truly enrich your lives. As, it is these social interactions that become your support system, it is these people that are your community and it is these interactions that create a sense of belonging and purpose in our lives. 

So I leave you all with this let’s not wait for us to reach this point in our lives where life has passed us by and we have to find ourselves alone in order to truly appreciate the essentiality of community and the importance that social interactions have in our lives. We are human beings and as Chris Kay explained 

“we are predisposed to being social I think we are predisposed to feeling like we are outside of the group sometimes and I think it is our responsibility to build ours societies such…that we cooperate with our nature to make sure we feel a sense of belonging and that everyone has the opportunity to have that.” 

Thus, instead of confining ourselves to the structure that binds us to social isolation we must break the mold and begin reconnecting and cultivating community as not only is it in our genetic make up to be social, it is these social interactions, sense of belonging and community that are the central element to the survival of all humanity and to true profound un exchangeable happiness.  


*Granted permission to reproduce by Vancouver Arts Colloquium Society