Is Happiness Only Real When Shared? (Unravelling The Theory)
The quote “happiness is only real when shared” derives from the cult travel movie and book ‘Into the Wild’, by Jon Krakauer
Based on a true story, the film documents young, fiery and free-thinking Christopher McCandless’s less than conventional road trip into the Alaskan wilderness, in search of life’s true meaning through the lens of his own intense worldview.
Being the utter movie nerd that I am, I consider it an unforgivable heresy to throw out a mindless spoiler. So don’t worry, you’re in safe hands here and nothing crucial from the movie will be unveiled.
I do however, want to unravel my thoughts on the sentiment that happiness is only real when it is shared, as I have mixed views on the phrase and would like to add my own personal spin on it.
“Happiness is only real when shared.”– Christopher McCandless
I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but when I heard this famous line; it admittedly got under my skin and touched a nerve within me, so much that I felt that I had to explore the root of this negative visceral reaction.
And with some soul-searching, the answer came to me a couple of years later.
When I first heard of this concept I was on an aggressive quest for independence and ending a chapter of my life of being around people who knew me and kept me around, regardless of my strengths and flaws. I was about to venture well and truly out of my comfort-zone to the other side of the world, on a one-way ticket.
To understand myself better. To become braver. To feel more alive. To quench my thirst for adventure and to work out what indeed it is “all about,” all by myself – just like McCandless did.
And there he was, after getting me to eat out the palm of his hands, because he was one of the few people to truly ‘get’ my agonising curiosity that had always burned from within. Only for him to go ahead and declare so boldly that going through this spiritual journey as a lone wolf somehow devalues the experience…
Come on, Chris, mate. I thought you were on my side!
As a firm believer in the quote; ‘a crowded room can be the loneliest place in the world,’ I concluded that if you truly know who you are, and are comfortable in your own presence, then experiencing happiness while being alone is a win, so the suggestion that it is somehow not “real,” or at least lesser than, irked me somewhat.
For months, years in fact, I staunchly denied this ideology, clinging onto any fun solo experience that I had, in order to dispel the claim that you can’t obtain true happiness when on your own. But a real man must say; “I was wrong” with a good nibble on a hefty slice of humble pie when confronted with the fact.
I hold my hands up. I am truly beaten. I will fight this fight no more. I get it now; I really, really get it.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love my own company and I do believe that you should look to be comfortable as a lone wolf for periods of time. It does wonders for your confidence, gives you clarity to think and work out what is best for you and iron out any issues when you’re stuck in your head around a noisy crowd.
Even as someone relatively high on the spectrum of extroversion, I like to have allotted time during the day completely on my own to decompress.
I spent the last six months living alone in Bangkok after living with friends for half a year and I loved it. I even had a spare room and could have saved money by finding someone to sub-let. But I like to have my own privacy and the freedom to roam out when I want to go and socialise. I enjoyed spending ‘me’ time and I appreciated my sacred man-cave.
However, my best times were those spent with close friends on a similar wavelength to me.
I’ve also had some brilliant times by myself in the last few years on my own.
But that doesn’t change the fact that those happy chapters were somewhat incomplete. It doesn’t change the bonus that experiencing those moments with another human being on my frequency would have been the ripest cherry on the tastiest of cakes.
It all started with little things like watching a beautiful sunset in a breathtaking place. I’d feel so grateful to have witnessed it and so happy to have the experience, but a little part of me felt that it would be better if I could turn to someone by my side and say; “Wow, isn’t it beautiful?”
Sometimes words are not even needed though. Even just to share a smile that suggests we are feeling the same thing would added a little bit more value to these moments. I could, of course call friends and family afterwards and tried to explain my experience – but that’s an uphill task. You can’t force someone to feel what you have felt.
That’s when the seed was planted. When the cracks in my defence started to appear.
Then I started to notice a common theme (although I tried to deny it) – that fun times on my own were massively eclipsed by fun times with another person/people. I would experience the most fervent cultural festivals in Thailand with friends and we would share the happiness and those good-feelings between us. I would catch myself thinking in my euphoric state; “can it really get any better than this?’
I’m not convinced it can.
Even on occasions when I am “alone,” but have been welcomed with open arms by some of the friendliest people on earth, the happiness shared with a stranger can add that little extra sentimental value.
Animals count too in my hypothesis. Imagine enjoying a gorgeous sunrise/sunset after a good hike, you sit back and breathe it all in…and a friendly dog comes over with its waggly tail to share it with you. Sharing happiness with the goodest boy in the world…
What a winner!
After my World Cup trip to Brazil, (which I will be sharing happiness with a good friend from home) I plan to live in Colombia for the rest of the year so that I can focus on building a new online business and learn Spanish. A friend of mine wants me to travel through some countries in South America with him first.
I was in two minds because I’m really looking forward to living in Medellin. I will be living there by myself and I’m fine with that. I’m confident I’ll make new friends. I’m excited about starting this new chapter of my life.
But I decided to say yes to yet another road trip. I know that I’ll be craving a connection with another human being at some point when I plan to travel overland through South America, later on as a solo traveller.
Former me would have labelled myself as “needy” for recognising this. I’ve spent a lot of time alone from an early age, and have become comfortable in my own presence. But I have also come to realise that I like to share happiness, as opposed to keep it all to my greedy little self, for an inflated sense of ego, masked with my; “I’m fine on my own” war-cry.
It seems Mr McCandless was right, well…kind of. Not meaning to be pedantic, but I’d make a slight amendment to the quote; “happiness is better when shared.”
As it’s not fake to feel happiness when on your own, it’s just that touch more satisfying when it is shared with another source.
What about you, do you feel happiness is only real when shared?
Song for the moment – “Perfect Day,” by Lou Reed.
“Oh it’s such a perfect day,
I’m glad I spent it with you.”– “Perfect Day,” by Lou Reed.
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