Happiness Society: Climbing

They might not all be the size of Kilimanjaro, but climbing our own mountains makes us happy

A lot of things might make us happy. A new dress, The Beatles, home-made macaroni cheese. Life’s little joys that bring a spring to your step and a smile to your face. But the type of happiness I’m focusing on here is the happiness gained from giving something your all and from personal success. And mostly from doing and achieving what you know you want to, no matter how much it might scare you. In the words of Mark Twain, the best way to achieve fulfilment is to “sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

A couple of years ago, I was firmly in my comfort zone and had hardly, if ever, broken out of it. I was in school, had a friendship group which hadn’t changed for years, I studied hard, had fun on weekends and life trundled on fine. Then, thanks to the admissions department of our beloved Durham University, I found myself deciding to take a gap year. Of course I had other options but I think I really knew deep down that I’d always wanted to take one, but had been too scared to do it alone. For many, a gap year is an obvious choice and an easy one. From my perspective, it was very frightening. All my close friends had gone to university, I had to raise a hell of a lot of money, and I was going to rural Africa for five months to live with a group of people I knew nothing about. And at that time, I was really quite shy.

It goes without saying that it was the best year of my life. And one of the best things about it was that I managed to prove to myself that I could conquer my fears and achieve an awful lot in the process. In April, I decided with some of my fellow volunteer friends to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I hated Bronze D of E, and I’m guilty of driving everywhere. I knew it was going to be a huge challenge, and it was. I cursed all the way up; there were days when all I wanted to do was sit down, cry, be rescued by a helicopter and transported to a hot, paradisiacal beach. But reaching the top was one of the best moments of my life. After days of struggling – including the summit night which was just horrendous, getting up at midnight to walk for six hours up an impossibly steep hill with limited oxygen and -20oc conditions – standing at the top was an incredible moment. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, and I literally leapt on our rather shocked guide, Isaac, to hug him. For me, I’d achieved the seemingly impossible, and I was euphoric.

I’m not saying it was the greatest achievement in the world, and I hope I don’t sound preachy or “gap yah”. But for me, it was so far out of the ordinary, and it pushed me to my limits. Glen Van Ekeren quotes Elie Wiesel’s book “Souls on Fire” in his “Speaker Sourcebook” that “when we die and go to meet our Maker, we’re not going to be asked why we didn’t become a messiah or didn’t find a cure for cancer. Instead, we will be asked, ‘Why didn’t you become fully “you”?’.”

Indeed, the very process of conquering your fears, and testing yourself, is surely one which will bring happiness. To achieve something believed to be beyond your abilities, if only by yourself, requires you to dream. The chasing of that dream requires negativity to be ignored, beaten and replaced by a self belief and positive attitude. And this self confidence is the backbone of success – if you don’t believe you can do it, you never will. It doesn’t have to be a solid belief, just a little faith in yourself. And the validation of that belief is one of the best feelings in the world.

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