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Searching for The Good Life

Whistler's annual food and wine festival only part of the answer

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  The search for answers in Whistler

As the first flakes of snow hit the valley floor this week, Whistler's collective happiness went up a notch or two on the Gross National Happiness scale.

You could feel it, that palpable tension, that undercurrent of excitement, fizzing across the valley.

That feeling that change is just on the horizon, that winter is coming and rather than battening down the hatches, we're getting psyched to feel that connection with winter, with nature, with something that is more powerful than we are.

"It provides a grounding force for us as humans," says psychotherapist Greg MacDonnell.

Whistler, it's true, has a way of getting under your skin.

MacDonnell agrees that Whistler often attracts people who may be looking to find something or running away from something else. He sees first hand people of all ages who are questioning their happiness.

He's been in private practice as a psychotherapist for the past five years, and immersed in the community for a decade prior to that with his work through the Whistler Community Services Society.

MacDonnell knows Whistler; he sees its dichotomies.

This place of everlasting fun and enjoyment may look like the epitome of the "good life" on the outside but is it sustainable as a lifestyle?

"We tend to numb ourselves out from that which we feel vulnerable to," he said of the dark side of the pursuit of happiness.

That numbing can take any form — drugs, alcohol, even exercise — he adds.

"Unfortunately when we numb ourselves... we also numb happiness," says MacDonnell.

Take young adults, seasonal or otherwise. They're here to have fun, make the most of a hiatus from "the real world."

But it's doesn't always work out that way if it's a path without intention.

"As we all know, not everyone leaves here feeling like they had the best time of their lives," says MacDonnell. "Some people struggle on that pursuit of happiness."

And it's not just the young struggling with this pursuit.

By middle age people are starting to confront those big existential realities.

"That can stop people dead in their tracks," he says. "Hence, the mid-life crisis."

And in the twilight years those realities become more profound as seniors grapple with their own mortality on a deeper level.

But through all this questioning, there is choice.

"You've got the people who are starting to become deliberate and purposeful about how they're feeling," says MacDonnell.