A few days ago I started listening to a book titled Resilience by Eric Greitens (thanks Maggie!), and the book was particularly unique because it summed up the relationship between the struggle, the pain, and happiness in life in a way that is completely logical. Throughout my life, particularly the past ten years, I know that I have been “addicted” to the adrenaline of extreme sports and to the struggle of endurance sports, and although I knew logically it was because they both made me happy it was difficult to articulate exactly why. As I’ve started this blog in the last year I have been on a quest through writing to explain to readers and myself alike, what it is exactly about happiness that is so often coupled with struggle. Today it is as clear as day.
John Muir Trail 2009
I have written in the past about ultraruns and how unpleasurable most of them actually are, so what about them create happiness? My perception of happiness has evolved throughout my life, and the activities that I engage in that promote my happiness have also changed. I find it essential to understand the difference between happiness and pleasure. There were certain things that I used to engage in frequently years ago that I assumed and believed made me happy, but only because they created extreme pleasure. Shopping is one of those activities. So while I still enjoy shopping I understand it on such a different level; because once you know true happiness fleeting pleasures cannot compare. Another example is running–running does not make me happy. I have been known to joke that I don’t even like to run much, because ultimately, it is not about running but about the pursuit of excellence that I get while I run that creates happiness. That is why during ultraruns the majority of the time I can think of very few enjoyable or pleasurable experiences, yet the experience as a whole gives me such internal joy. The sound of the outdoors, packing my pack, the smell of sunscreen, all send me to a place of peace.
To some, this constant pursuit may seem exhausting and even selfish, and while I agree with exhausting part, the selfish part I couldn’t disagree with more. As you struggle and push yourself beyond preconceived limitations, you are gaining a perspective on life that cannot be replicated through any other pleasurable activity. In high school and college when I assumed that I was happy, I was also very judgemental, unforgiving to others and to myself, and overall pretty miserable. Yet as I have moved through this path of pursuing my own personal excellence, I understand struggle and happiness on a different level. This has allowed me to look at others with more compassion, be more mindful about my contribution to my community and to other communities, and to set my judgments aside. Overall, I have gained and continue to gain a worldview that lays on the side of peace, love, and acceptance. This may sound a little cliché but clichés do have their place in the world.
My pursuit of excellence has been found primarily in endurance sports, and while I do receive emails and comments of encouragement, I have also received comments of judgement. These comments are usually critical in regards to what I am doing to my body, why I need to push it, what am I searching for…etc. Ultimately all I can say is that the pursuit of happiness is not an easy road, nor is it filled with immediate gratification, but what it offers on the road is drastically more fulfilling and life changing than staying idle. In the end, I would rather sacrifice my body for the sake of my mind than the alternative.
Not everyone’s pursuit looks the same. You have to find your struggle and find it again and again and again. When we stop struggling we stop growing. It is a long life for most, and it is amazing how many of us don’t even truly know ourselves. Get out there and get to know yourself. When you look back on your life, your happiest times are probably those times that were most difficult in some way, because you struggled, you fought, you gained resilience, and you survived. Although life is long, it is still too short not to valiantly pursue the person we were born to be.