Two major events will be happening in my life in the very near future. The first is the Marathon Des Sables, a 250km foot race in Morocco, which starts in early April and where I will be required to be totally self-sufficient, except for water supplies, carrying everything I need to survive as I navigate the sands of the Sahara for a week in plus 40 degree temperatures. The second is that my fixed term project contract with my employer, the Fitness Academy of Finland, will be coming to an end in July, after which my family and I will most likely be on the road again once again, heading off for a new adventure, destination still not sure. Both of these upcoming ‘challenges’ have really made me think about what I value in life, in particular about what is needed to be happy, rather than just what’s needed for survival.
Since leaving Australia to ‘see the world’ as a 23 year old (interestingly, I’ll be double that very shortly), I can say that my life up until now has pretty much been that of a nomad. This might make it seem that I averse to spending too long in one place. Well, I have to admit that is totally true. However, that is not to say that the time spent at any one place is necessarily short, although that could easily be assumed. Rather, my aim is to only spend as much time in one place as I needed. In practice, that has meant quite varied timespans ranging from as little as three months up to as much as four years in one place. I guess that isn’t too bad, although I know that the inevitable frequent movement has still stressed out some family members and friends more than they’d have cared for. But what is this need that I’m referring to?
I feel as if I have an almost inherent need to keep life fresh and to remain curious about what is and what could be. It’s a need to always have something to look forward to and learn from. We all know how bored we get when we live in a kind of ‘groundhog day’ existence where life doesn’t really seem to change much, or even at all, from one day to the next. We may certainly be comfortable and have lots of things to anesthetize the mind-numbing boredom we experience, but for sure we are not happy; at least I’m not. The contrast to this, of course, is a life of constant change and that can be super scary, and quite uncomfortable, if not painful, due to the great degree of uncertainty about what tomorrow will bring. The reality of existence is that everything does change from second to second, but we are just not aware of it. Now, that change can be pleasant or unpleasant. If the change meant that we became rich overnight, we’d certainly find it all quite pleasant, at least for a while, but what if we were told by a doctor that we had only 6 months to live, that is, we were facing the biggest change there is in life, that is, the loss of it? Then we’d certainly have quite a different reaction. My understanding is this. Life is change and change is life, and it will happen no matter what we do. So, we can either choose to ignore it and live with our heads in the sand until life kicks us in our asses really hard (and it will at some point!) or we can accept that change is normal, embrace it and make our asses moving targets! There is still no guarantee that we won’t get kicked in the buttocks, but it will be much, much harder for the big size 14 shoe of life to find its mark. If we can focus on the latter, we will be well ahead of the game. With a greater awareness of the nature of life, we will be in a much better position to actively influence what happens to us, and we will have at least a fighting chance at living the best and happiest life we possibly can.
Now achieving happiness does come at a price, and that price is the need to sometimes feel discomfort, pain or even downright raw suffering. We need this unpleasantness for a whole range of reasons, but I think there are two main ones. Firstly, I believe that we value more what we have earned through our own efforts; and, secondly, if we do not know what pain or suffering is, how can we truly know or appreciate happiness? In other words, we need a point of reference to know where we are, and also where we need to go. Now there is a trick to this (isn’t there always a trick?!). While we can certainly passively wait for that size 14 to put the hurt on, there is another way to not only accelerate the process, but make discomfort and pain our friends, friends that we in fact welcome rather than fear. So, what’s the trick? Well, the pain or discomfort needs to be self-inflicted. When we take this approach, we’re able to at least exercise some degree of control over it, as opposed to passively taking what life dishes out, often ‘giving’ us things we don’t want, and which are seemingly quite random or occur for no particular or fair reason at all. When we seek it out change, discomfort, pain, call it what you like, something magical happens, and that magic is what makes life worthwhile.
“When you pray, move your feet” – an old Masai warrior saying
Really, I don’t think we need that much to be happy. In addition to the basic needs of food and water to sustain our physical bodies, and a warm, safe place to rest our heads at night, our only other basic need should simply be to surround ourselves with good people to learn from, and to share stories with, so that we are able to continuously refresh our minds and spirits. The rest is just icing on the cake … and really, without the cake, what’s the point of having icing? I live the life of a nomad because it makes me feel happy. I feel alive and inspired when I have the feeling that, at a moment’s notice, I can be on the move again, searching for new adventures, ready to explore and learn about new things. Preparing for, and then soon participating, in events such as the Marathon Des Sables helps to keep my mind focused on what I want from life. It helps me to remain aware of how heavy my life is and whether I am allowing myself to either be held back or unnecessarily weighed down on the journey I’m on. Incidentally, my MDS race pack will weigh about 10kg with 5.5kg of that being food! So, really, besides what I consume as food, everything material I need weighs just 4.5kg. Luckily the stuff between my ears weighs next to nothing. Hang on … did I just have a go at myself?
An adventure like the MDS serves other purposes also. My aim is not actually to race against anyone else or to try and prove to myself that I am somehow worthy of something. Rather, it is more a way to gain a greater awareness of the fragility of human life, as well as to act as a reminder of just how deep the reservoirs of our personal strength are, and how we can all access this strength if we would only choose to make the effort. For me, voluntarily subjecting myself to temporary discomfort or pain, so as to gain this understanding, is a way that allows me to regularly reaffirm the essential spirit of the life I wish to lead. The same goes for why I prefer to seek our project work, which necessarily involves (sometimes major) upheavals of my family’s routine daily with the associated frequent travel and relocation. But what’s the alternative? Living a life where you allow others to dictate the direction of your life. Sometimes it’s easy to feel like a puppet, isn’t it? Certainly some could speculate that I’m maybe trying to run away from something, perhaps from a fear of commitment? Could be, but I don’t think so. I believe that, in fact, the opposite is true and that I’m actually running towards something. I’m not sure what that something is yet, but all I know is that the more I put one foot in front of the other, the better I feel. From this, I figure that happiness is not a destination in and of itself, but rather a dynamic concept that requires movement and momentum to exert it’s best effects on us. Maybe, then, to be happy, we just simply need to keep moving, each in our own way? Certainly, at any given moment, we can feel happy or sad, comfortable or in pain, but I think that over the long term we can all say, if asked, whether our lives have generally been happy or not, and whether we’re becoming happier or not. What would you answer if asked this right now?
Keep moving and don’t forget to enjoy the scenery!
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