Some Thoughts on Happiness, a Why to my Appalachian Trail (AT) Walk
Originally posted 12/14/2014
As many of you know I’ve quit my job, sold my house and am traveling across the United States towards my appointed start date of February 26th to do a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT) from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Kathadin, ME (2189 miles). ~ Rev Kane
So one of the things I love about being in the desert is the impact it has on my mind, the desert makes me contemplative. Perhaps it’s the openness of the environment or perhaps the harshness. Although desert camping drives a high level of focus on everything from highly variable weather, to the need to drink a lot of water, to the dangerous critters that abound, I find it to be a calming environment for me. My mind wanders and drifts to deeper than normal thoughts when I’m out there.
This particular trip also found me decompressing from my old life and transitioning into a period of travel and long-distance walking. This also leads to a little more contemplation than normal. So of course to add to this state of mind I’ve been reading two books, Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist and Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Two well-reviewed and excellent books that I’ve known about for a long time, have owned for some time, but have never read.
My focus in reading them will surprise no one, it is to delve even deeper into the idea of what happiness is, and what really makes people happy. I had a number of thoughts while reading these books and the first revelation was a bit disconcerting.
People will more readily believe a fantasy about their life, rather than deal with its reality.
I see this all of the time, but the place I see it most often and most appropriate to me at this time, is the fantasy about people pursuing their dreams when they retire. I’ll use the example of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT), many people have this on their bucket list. However, life gets in the way, job, kids and the myriad of day to day responsibilities we have. However thru-hiking the AT is a grueling physical task, and how many of us at 60 (if we’re lucky) or 65 (more likely) when we retire are still physically able to take on a six month, 2200 mile hike? There are some, some really amazing folks, but most of us are not at our peak physical condition at that age. This is one of the reasons I’m doing it at 50 and not waiting.
This may be an extreme example but I hear people talking all of the time about how they’d like to go here, or do that but not this year, maybe next year, oh well maybe the year after that. Time goes by far too quickly my friends and soon it’s five or ten years down the road. How many times has this already happened to all of us?
The second big revelation that I gained from these two books was a confirmation of something I think we all know.
That having a purpose in life gives life meaning, makes you happy and keeps you alive.
The thing that I learned about this idea from reading Viktor E Frankl’s book was that the idea of meaning and purpose in life does not have to be grandiose. If someone can find hope, purpose, hell even beauty in the midst of a Nazi concentration camp, it can’t be that hard to find in everyday life. Frankl talks about the biggies that give us purpose, children, love, basically responsibility to others. But he demonstrates through the most brutal of circumstances of life what man is capable of being. How he can find beauty in a sunset, or the light coming through the forest. How he can laugh even if he believes he’s days from the gas chamber or doesn’t know if his family is alive or dead.
Your purpose in life doesn’t need to be creating world peace, becoming wealthy or famous, becoming the President of the United States. Your purpose can be being a good parent, a kind person, someone who appreciates life. It comes back to something we hear time and time again, it is not our circumstances that determine our happiness, it is the decision we make, our responses to these circumstances. Frankl said it much more poetically.
My final thought tonight, if you are struggling, find some meaning, think less about the how of life and more about the why. Right now, my focus, my why is to achieve my goal, to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) for as long as I can, for as far as I get. The big goal, the grand achievement is to complete all 2200 miles, but the oil on the spoon is to enjoy each day I’m out there and appreciate the freedom I’ve created for myself right now. So define your why and you’ll have a happy day my friends ~ Rev Kane
The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon ~ Paulo Coehlo