Sunday, February 21, 2010

On happiness

Date: Feb. 21
Mileage: ~5
Total climbing: ~2,200 feet
Time: 2 hours, 7 minutes
Weather: Sunny, 42 degrees, light winds
Details: Hike to Ben Stewart, 40-90 percent

I didn't sleep well last night because my heart rate wouldn't slow down, something that happens to me when I am "overtraining," which to me means working my body at a consistently higher rate than it is comfortable with for an extended period of time. The kind of thing I do during an ultraendurance race. The kind of thing I'm actually seeking to do right now, with my "mountain bender." But after not sleeping well, I woke up late with a sun hangover, prickly quad muscles and legs that felt like they were stapled to the mattress. My hands are torn to shreds from my Sheep Creek bushwhacking adventure and I'm finally starting to get blisters on my toes. So I decided, "time to take a rest day." I knew, physically, that rest would do me more good than exercise at this point.

I did some cleaning and organizing at home, and at noon decided to go to the office a couple hours early and work on some administrative stuff that I've been putting off. As I drove south, the mountain peaks that envelope Juneau like a fortress became visible through the diminishing fog. As though emerging from a fog myself, my inertia slowly became supplanted by desire. "I have two hours," I thought. "What can I do with two hours?" I drove past my office building and kept going.

I had in my car a pair of running shoes and clothing I wear to the gym. Not exactly up to the standards of the winter trekking gear I traditionally use, but perfectly adequate for what I had in mind - climbing to Ben Stewart, a 3,366-foot-high peak on Douglas Island. I have actually never been all the way to this peak before, because it's a muskeg-slicked slog in the summer and in the winter it is usually the realm of skiers - located in the immediate backcountry of Eaglecrest Ski Area. But it's a good, fast peak to hike for two reasons - you can "cheat" by starting at the base of the ski area at 1,150 feet rather than the typical Juneau starting point of sea level. And snowshoeing snowboarders generally lay a good boot-pack trail that is sufficient for running.

But as I tried to kick-start my reluctant legs and adjust my sunburned eyes to the bright white snow, that nagging guilt, "why are you doing this?" trickled into my mind. So I thought about it. I coughed and clawed up the slush and ice and thought about it. I didn't think very hard, because mountain benders combined with my weekend work duties generally turn my mind to mush. But the only answer I could come up with, as I stood on the peak with the sun-drenched pinnacles of Southeast Alaska surrounding me, was, "It makes me happy."

But that started me thinking about the substance of happiness. To me, the question "what is happiness?" is the same as asking "what is food?" It is something that fills you up, energizes and replenishes your body and mind. It is something you need and something you seek after. It is not the same for everyone - some people crave lobster; others like peanut butter sandwiches. Happiness is organic in the same way food is, consumable and finite. One source will never be enough to satiate a person forever. We are destined to pursue it our entire lives, and eventually find fulfillment in the pursuit as much as the reward. The question "are you happy?" is the same as the question "are you hungry?" Happiness is hunger, the force and motivation of life. If I'm satisfied today, I'll still have to go searching the next day, and the next and the next, until I breathe my dying breath. And to stop searching is to starve, slowly but surely. This I believe.

Then again, I have been spending a lot of time in the sun this week. :-)


  1. They come for the pictures, they linger for the writing, but gosh darn if they don't stay for the wisdom.

    Thanks for the reminder, Jill. As usual, your timing is perfect.

  2. I often wonder the same thing as I contemplate getting out of bed or when I limp the return home. Thanks...glad to put a feeling to it!

  3. Pick up a copy of Einstein's Dreams

    Mary from NC

  4. Great thoughts! I love it! Near perfect! not to be picky but, I'd only change one word in the line, "One source will never be enough to satiate a person forever." Change Source to Moment. Because my beliefs, their is only one source of true life fulfilling happiness and that is God. But we have to search for God and happiness in all the Moments of life.

  5. You are absolutly right. Happiness is different for everybody. People can make suggestions on what makes them happy, but that may not be right for you.

  6. Jill,
    Loved your last para about what makes up happiness. The food simile is perfect. Happiness' absence, however distracted we are by the mundane, leaves us empty of the extraordinary. And, as you so rightly say, as long as we breathe we all search for something that transcends the ordinary. Even though answers may be forever beyond our reach, questions never are, and there is something satisfying in their remaining unanswered, too.
    What you wrote also reminded me of this, by Arundhati Roy:
    “The only dream worth having ... is to dream that you will live while you're alive and die only when you're dead ... To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or to complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”
    Every word you write, every picture you take, is part of your journey of trying to understand.

  7. You have OCSDD-Obsessive compulsive sun deficiency disorder. A lot of us have it,it comes from living in areas where we don't see the sun often enough.

  8. Thomas Jefferson could have written, "life, liberty and happiness," but he was wise - and so art ye. :)

  9. Thanks for the words.....I was kinda having a bad day-your pics and words really hit the spot:-)

  10. Hi! there must be cold, eheheh. see our last video. Greetings!

    BTT100Stress - PORTUGAL

  11. While I absolutely agree on the happiness..

    --I know what it's like to stand in the woods and just feel.. "home"--

    unfortunately, I don't think you are "energizing and replenishing your body." I think you're tearing it apart.

    Careful, Jill. There is happiness-- and there is addiction.

    It seems to me that the "happiness highs" gotten by hiking up the mountains are covering up the unhappiness off the mountain.

  12. jill,
    rockin out some nice glasses...what brand?

  13. Thanks for this post. I have read many of your posts and really love them.


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