Responsible happiness

The Maximiser

Detour off the Pamir Highway, Tajikistan

My friends tease me for being a maximizer, a person who “needs to be assured that their every purchase or decision was the best that could be made”. Now that we’re getting close to home I’m slowly transitioning from bike touring to ‘normal life’. I am spending less time figuring out how to get edible food, and more time wondering what a palatable post-bike touring career/lifestyle could be. Instead of asking a Chinese noodle restaurant “What is the best, cheapest dish on your menu that is typical of Sichuan province but is not too spicy and preferably does not have Sichuan pepper in it?” I’m now asking, “May I please have a fulfilling, fun, meaningful, ethical, well-paid conservation job that still leaves me plenty of time to kiteboard, rockclimb, snowboard, take photos and spend time with my family?” I know, I know, I should try to satisfice or simplify more (the healthy opposites of maximizing).

It’s not helping that I keep looking at photos on adventure sports sites like this one or this one and reading articles by people who give themselves the job title of “Adventurer / Author / Motivational Speaker”. Alastair Humphreys (the round-the-world cyclist whose book inspired my journey) actually makes a living writing and talking about his adventures. Making a living by doing what you love: I can’t say the idea hasn’t crossed my mind. But is that really what I want? Would I feel like I deserved it?

I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we all are seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is towards happiness.

– Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness

When I think about doing something I love as a career (e.g. outdoor sports) I feel like I need to justify the decision in terms of environmental benefit. I don’t know why because most people have a job that they do just to make a living. They’re not trying to save the planet or solve child malnutrition. Doing something and getting paid for it is what humans have to do, and it’s a valid pursuit in life (as long as it’s not harming the planet or others). Is it pretentious to think I will only feel fulfilled if I have a job that helps the planet? On the other hand, is it respectable to choose a job just because it seems like it would let me have a lot of fun?

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.

– Leo Tolstoy

Some people think that happiness is “a trivial American preoccupation”, that it’s self-indulgent. Despite a heavy conscience of guilt for not doing more for the environment, I disagree. In fact I believe taking care of your own happiness is the first place to start to make the world a better place. Happy people are more likely to smile, to care, to give, and to think about the well-being of others. I also feel strongly that we each have a responsibility to make a positive contribution to our community – both local and global.

What I’m doing now is really fun: I love improving my kiteboarding and exploring the world by bicycle. I often laugh with glee when I manage to get my kite to pull me several meters off the water’s surface or carve a perfect snowboard turn down a powder slope. All of this makes me happy. I know I need these things in my life because they bring me happiness that gives me energy and motivation to take on the daunting task of being a conservationist. I’m close to arriving home to Switzerland but I know this is only the beginning of my journey in responsible happiness.

The books and websites that inspired this entry: