If you’ve been around the Happiness watercooler for awhile, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Life is a journey, not a destination,” certainly not a new idea – thank you, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Whatever the destination is – health, wealth, great relationships, inner peace – the idea is to enjoy the journey now and not delay enjoyment unless and/or until the end result or the ideal result is achieved.
But what is this journey called life? What are we all striving for at the end of the day? Here’s a story that answers that question so beautifully:
Imagine taking on an 1800 mile trek slogging over ice, rocks and crannies, through wind, white out conditions and sub zero temperatures. You spend all day every day out in the open where the sun doesn’t set, dragging behind you a 400 pound sled full of provisions. Day after day for 105 days from the coast of Antarctica to the south pole, enduring hypothermia and exhaustion. Who would do such a thing and why?
If you listen to Ben Saunders’ TedTalk, you’ll find out why. In 2013-14, Ben and his teammate Tarka L’Herpiniere retraced the route of Captain Scott’s Terra Nova expedition. He’ll tell you about how, for him, it represented “the high watermark of human endurance and achievement.” But when Ben summed up what it really meant to him, putting himself at risk day after day, driving himself to near impossible extremes, this is what he had to say:
I realized that cliche about the journey being more important than the destination –
there’s something in that. The closer I got to my finish line…the more
I started to realize that the lesson this very long hard walk might be teaching me
is that happiness is not a finish line … that ..the perfection
that most of us humans dream about might not ever be truly attainable.
And if we can’t feel content here today now on our journeys amidst the mess and
the striving that we all inhabit – the open loops – the half finished to do lists –
the could do better next time than we might never feel it.
What is your finish line?
We all have our own version of the Artctic expedition. If we’re like Ben, we might be looking for extreme adventures. For most of us, our finish line is about the details of daily living. Juggling a full time job and three kids every day. Taking care of aging parents. Dealing with depression, anxiety, ill health and loss. Trying to make your way in a world that seems to exclude you. Or perhaps achieving our perfect vision of ourselves whatever that may be. Whatever the journey, think about what it’s really all for.
Happiness is the epitome of all journeys (and the true destination of every journey we ever take). If we focus on happiness as a destination – something to acquire, achieve, possess – our very experience of happiness changes. As long as we are grasping for happiness, we are no longer on a journey to happiness – we are just stuck in the mud of a belief that happiness is out of reach unless and until. And guess what? Although it may be exciting to push ourselves to the extremes of our being, we can be happy now in the comfort of our own mind wherever we happen to be. Then we are no longer on a journey to happiness, but a journey of happiness.