What do we truly need to be happy? Despite the societal conclusion that more things lead to happiness, we might find that the answer we’re looking for is right outside our doors.
Where on earth can I find happiness? Isn’t that one of the most classic questions we ask ourselves? You can’t tell me that that inquiry hasn’t crossed your mind a time or two during your short stint here on earth so far. It’s understandable though, that question. It seems as though we are all seeking, all searching for purpose, for significance, for happiness. Now, this is not my place, nor the platform, for me to tell you where your significance lies. That is your own personal journey. But I would love to offer a suggestion that might help de-clutter the road on which you’re traveling to get there.
Think back to the last time you spent some quality time in nature. I mean, really lingered there. Where were you? What did you do? Did you sit among a sea of grasses and listen to the blades softly sway against each other? Did you stand tall on a mountaintop and drink in the solitude? Were you gathered amongst family and friends, simply enjoying each other’s company without commercial and material distractions? Think about it a little more. Was there ever a time when you actually came back more stressed from time spent outside than when you started? (Life-threatening and precarious situations not included).
Why is that? What makes the outdoors so rejuvenating? (Are you getting tired of my questions?) The concept of the renewing quality of nature has perplexed and enticed people for centuries. Read any of the soul-filled writings by authors such as Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Rachel Carson, to name a few. Or listen to the wistful songs of John Denver and other musicians that have considered nature their muse. Think of all the paintings, sculptures and media that have been inspired by the natural world. I think our human connection to nature is incredibly deep, probably greater than we realize. Some people are more aware of it than others; maybe some are more unfamiliar with it because they simply haven’t been presented with or given themselves the opportunity to discover it on their own. Regardless, we have this bank of peace right at our fingertips. So why does making that withdrawal from it often slip our minds? To what are we depositing our time instead?
I am currently a student in Los Angeles. Those who know me know that this city does not suit me very well. They also know that the previous sentence is one of the many euphemisms that I often tend to use. I am thankful for everything I have learned here so far and I am so incredibly grateful for the lifelong friendships I’ve gathered. But the past four years have been characterized by series of ups and down, cycles in and out of contentment, and a constant feeling of being overwhelmed. I have realized, though, that every time I have sought refuge in the more natural areas around the city, most of those feelings dissipate; I have space to think, to pray, to feel and to notice that my life in which I get so easily tangled is actually not as big as it seems. It helps me acknowledge that life is greater than my current circumstance. Not greater in terms of success or jobs or money or material, but greater in terms of people and need and value and love.
Recently, a friend and I went on a short road trip through the well-traveled string of southern Utah’s national parks. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful and I highly recommend everyone to make the trip at some point in his or her life. But the most remarkable part of the trip was how simple our days were, and yet how free and happy and filled with purpose we felt. It was astounding the way we made meaningful connections with people simply because we were sharing the same trail or campground or even the same fire. If you think about it, in what other context are people so willing to share stories and parts of themselves than when they are outdoors? Have you ever come across an unhappy hiker? I’m not sure I have. Maybe that should tell us something…
Now I know our daily lives aren’t as idealistic as a road trip. Not every schedule is as blissfully free and not every day can be spent on the trail, although wouldn’t that be nice. I think, though, that life is more than jobs and salaries and resume merits. It’s more than promotions and meetings and obligations. I think there is an elegance to simplicity, to de-cluttering, to spending idle time in nature. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. Deposit a bit of time outdoors and see the benefits on your wellbeing compound with interest.