Happiness is only real when shared
…found written by Christoper McCandless are thought to be the last words he wrote before he died.
I’ve thought about this insight for a long time, and read many differing views on it. But I’m still not satisfied with the interpretations I’ve read.
Too much emphasis placed on deriding the whole experience Christopher McCandless had, or just jumping on top of the idea and accepting it at face value.
Some feel we can disregard the meaning because he was dying, and alone, and his thoughts had turned (understandably) inwards.
I don’t agree. It makes no sense to just disregard the implications that come from that idea that happiness is only real when shared.
Can happiness even be shared?
I believe it must be to reach certain levels. To qualify that statement, I should explain how I interpret experience of “happiness” and “shared”.
Some believe the experience of happiness is subjective and personal; that while two people together might be happy, their happiness is derived from 2 separate places and experienced in 2 separate forms.
Sure, I understand the principal of subjectivity in experience, and subscribe to it, but I have no doubt happiness, and other emotions may be experienced in tandem – they feed off one another to create an elevated emotional experience that otherwise wouldn’t be achieved.
So yes, the experience of happiness is subjective and can be shared with other people. Perhaps not like chocolate cake; but a happy event may be shared so that the participants will have a more intense experience than otherwise possible.
What does it mean to share in happiness?
There is an assumption made from this quote that “shared” meant “with other human beings”.
Consider an alternative:
In contrast to the outsiders’ perception that Christopher McCandless was feeling alone and destitute, and probably regretful of his self-induced solitude, he was espousing the idea that even in a solitary human death, he was not alone, but happy and at peace.
At the time of his death, instead, he felt liberated after achieving a separation from so-called modern “society”. He was deeply connected with nature and life and wasn’t alone by a long way.
Another quote from him is:
You don’t need human relationships to be happy, god has placed it all around us.
Putting the definition of “god” aside for now, he was happy and capable of experiencing happiness in human solitude. Happy because he was living life fully, and sharing in the beauty of the world that surrounded him.
I feel the greatest lesson we can draw from his whole experience is that we are truly living, with the greatest propensity for happiness and love, when we are connected deeply to life that surrounds us. That is, connected with nature and/or human relationships.
In this way we share our lives and our happiness.
Consider the extreme opposite… life spent in solitude, in a dark lifeless hole. All you have to look forward to misery leading to insanity.
Why are children so happy?
I explored the idea that youth is the secret to happiness in an earlier article, and I believe that fits nicely with what I’ve outlined here.
Children are naive, and largely innocent. They typically find fun and joy in the simplest of things in a manner forgotten by most adults.
To test this idea, place a bubble-blowing machine in a children’s playground and one in an office and observe the different responses.
As children become increasingly self-aware, they don’t need to be explicitly taught that sharing is the fastest route to a good life. They can try and eke it out alone, but they’ll soon realise it doesn’t pay.
As children we learn through observation, modelling ourselves on our peers and role-models. Thus we grow. We watch grown-ups all around us fight and squabble, living disconnected and unhappy lives and assume this is normal and “the way things are”.
I feel that by default we, as children, feel connected rather than separated from the world around us. We are taught to fear the unknown (people, places and things), to stop exploring because it’s “wrong” and “unsafe”.
How often do you hear parents staying to their children:
It’s basic 21st century parenting vernacular.
What do you think of happiness and sharing?
Did I interpret “sharing” all backwards, or does the typical interpretation of Christopher McCandless have the right of it? Must we be with people, sharing lives and experiences, if we want to be truly happy? Is that even what he meant?
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The read the book from which the quote is taken, you can grab it on Amazon here: Into The Wild