This photo essay is part of our coverage of the results of a nationwide survey on happiness, conducted by the Gandalf Group for The Globe and Mail.
Joey Chi-Cheng Yu, 30, is a dentist in Vancouver who shares a practice called MC2 Dental in the Marpole neighbourhood with his father. After earning a BSc with a major in chemistry from the University of British Columbia, he attended Boston University’s Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine and graduated magna cum laude in 2016.
There is a prevailing notion that dentists are unhappy; they typically finish school deep in debt and work under stressful conditions while dealing with people who, generally speaking, don’t want to be there.
As far as Dr. Yu is concerned, however, it’s a great job. A voracious reader who loves being outdoors and who is engaged to be married, he is a content soul.
He is among the 67 per cent of Canadians who self-report being very happy, according to a recent Globe and Mail survey conducted by the Gandalf Group. The most powerful overall determinants of happiness as well as satisfaction with life, the survey found, are mental health and having a sense of purpose. Canadians in a relationship are happier than those who are not.
“I really enjoy what I do,” says Dr. Yu. “You get to help people and you make a pretty good living. It’s a pretty stable job. I have work-life balance.”
Here is a typical day in Dr. Yu’s life.
7:30 a.m. Morning routine
Dr. Yu, who has Sundays and Wednesdays off, lives with his parents; he and his fiancée are saving money for a home. He starts off the day with a workout lasting 30 to 45 minutes that might involve lifting weights, going for a run or doing jumping jacks, burpees, sit-ups, push-ups and the like.
“It gives me energy and helps me feel ready for the day,” he says.
Then it’s breakfast: a power smoothie (yogurt, banana, kale, almond milk, hemp seeds and whatever fruit is on hand) and a slice of multigrain toast with Fatso peanut butter (a local brand). He doesn’t drink a lot of coffee, but when he does, it’s Trader Joe’s 100% Colombian Instant if he’s in a rush or, if he’s not, 100% certified organic and fair-trade Smart Ass from Kicking Horse Coffee.
9:30 a.m. Seeing patients
Dr. Yu may see about six to eight patients a day, depending on the procedures. His work benefits people in ways that go beyond their dental health.
“I help people gain a lot of confidence. I had a patient in Boston who had gotten into a fight and had all his front teeth knocked out while he was drunk. He had been incarcerated for a year or so. He had a young daughter and decided to turn his life around for her. I made him an upper denture to restore his smile. Without front teeth, your speech can be affected, too. It helped with his confidence and emotional well-being. He was really, really happy. That was pretty powerful for me.”
12:30 p.m. Paperwork
Dr. Yu catches up on paperwork and e-mail. If the weather is nice, he will get outside for a walk around the neighbourhood or to nearby Winona Park. He usually brings his own lunch, but on days where a meal out is happening, he opts for Malaysian restaurants, Penang Delight or Pink Elephant Thai, which are in walking distance from his office, in the Marine Gateway community. There is a Starbucks there, too, if he is doing a latte run for his staff.
6:30 p.m. Office closes
Before he heads home, he reviews patients’ charts for the next day. “That helps me feel prepared and confident. … I read up on current research and techniques. If a patient cancels, I like practising on models, doing crowns, root canals and cavities, so I know I’ve tried my best.”
Fifty-four per cent of Canadians report being happy with their work-life balance, while 45 per cent say they’re happy with the amount of leisure time they have, according to The Globe’s happiness survey.
7:00 p.m. Home
Dr. Yu and his fiancée Amy Chen like to cook together. “I am a vegetarian, and we love making vegetarian dishes, especially using fresh and seasonal produce. One of my favourite recipes to make at home is a vegan version of the “minced pork over rice” dish. This is a traditional Chinese dish that is commonly seen throughout Taiwan. It’s an extremely easy dish to make and brings back nostalgic memories to my cultural roots.”
After dinner, he relaxes watching Netflix (Breaking Bad and the British and American versions of The Office are favourites) or reading.
“I prefer reading non-fiction books as they often leave me thinking about issues that matter in the world that we live in, such as the people, the environment, the medical field, and more.
“Two non-fiction books that I highly recommend as essential readings for everyone are Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom. The overarching take-home message is a reminder for us to be grateful for everything that we have in our lives and to not take anything for granted, including the people around us and the precious resources that we have. Many scientific studies have found that being grateful is strongly correlated to happiness.”
11:00 p.m. Bedtime
“Some people ask me how I deal with stress. For me, one of the biggest things we have to do is slow ourselves down. We can’t let this fast-paced world with social media, and data transition going so fast, take over.”
On days off, Dr. Yu might go for a swim at Hillcrest Pool and do errands, picking up groceries at Kim’s, a family-owned Korean grocery store.
He helps his fiancée in the garden, where she grows three types of organic kale as well as carrots and potatoes.
They also love hiking. Favourite local spots include Lynn Canyon or Quarry Rock, both in North Vancouver. Next on their list is Stawamus Chief in Squamish.
On evenings when they’re not cooking, they will go for dinner or get takeout, typically Indian food.
“Being happy is about harmony between our body and our minds,” he says. “Physical health and emotional health go hand in hand, and we have to try our best to take care of both.”