The Pursuit of Happiness

By Aussie on the Road on  11 Comments
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Just Keep Swimming

I read somewhere once that sharks have to keep swimming, or else they’ll drown. While I’ve since learned that this isn’t the case, it’s always been a concept that’s intrigued me. This idea that constant forward momentum needs to be maintained or else you’ll die

Fun fact: ‘Travel or Die’ and ‘Just Keep Swimming’ were early contenders for the site’s name before I settled on Aussie on the Road.

Even if it isn’t true of sharks, I feel like it is true of me. I need to keep moving.

Anytime I stop traveling and settle down for too long, I start to struggle for air. In truth, I start to fear for my life.

There’s nothing at home that threatens me, of course. I have the privilege of coming from Australia, which despite my 10 Reasons I Hate Living in Australia, remains one of the best places in the world to call home.

In the two months since I’ve been home, I’ve had five visits to the GP and a psychologist’s appointment for the grand total of zero dollars. My anti-depressants cost me a scant $6 a month, and I’ve been blessed to come home to a beautifully decorated cottage that gives me the personal space I usually miss while being home.

I have a wonderfully warm family whom I get along with very well, and the kind of friends who treat me as if I hadn’t been largely out of their lives for two or three years at a time while I selfishly pursue something resembling happiness.

What frightens me about being home isn’t anything external – it’s internal. There’s a darkness inside of me that I’ve juggled medications and counselling sessions trying to put to bed.

Truth is, the only thing that has ever seem to stave the bastard off has been traveling.

The Pursuit of Happiness

I can’t speak as to why other people travel. We all have our own motivations for pursuing the wanderlust lifestyle.

I think I started on this back in 2007 looking for happiness. I left Australia behind with little to show for my twenty four years on the earth – a soulless job in retail, friends who were more successful than me, and no relationships to speak of.

Even at an early age, travel was clearly a source of great joy for me.
Even at an early age, travel was clearly a source of great joy for me.

In South Korea (and again in China), I found the things that had eluded me on Aussie soil: a rocking social life, girls who wanted to date me, and a sense of purpose.

Overseas nobody thought it odd that I couldn’t figure out a way to fit into the 9 to 5, mortgage and kids lifestyle that is so prevalent back home. Why would they? If they fit into it, they wouldn’t have traveled halfway around the world to earn less than they were earning at home.

Good times with like-minded people in Nanjing.
Good times with like-minded people in Nanjing.

I’d like to give this story a happy ending and say that I managed to find happiness. I’d like to say that in one of the ten countries (soon to be twelve) I’ve so far visited, I came upon that thing that gave my life a sense of purpose and cured my relentlessly itchy feet.

I’ve thought I’ve found it a few times along the way.

Slow dancing naked to Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Believe’ in my college dorm room; bobbing in the Yellow Sea as fireworks exploded overhead and new friends laughed all around me; having a beautiful girl run into my arms at an airport; singing and dancing with old friends at the wedding of my best friend…

You didn't think I'd put up a photo of the naked slow dancing, did you?
You didn’t think I’d put up a photo of the naked slow dancing, did you?

The Pursuit of Distraction

It was only after the fact that I realised these moments, although happy, were fugacious.

My travels aren’t so much the pursuit of happiness; they’re the pursuit of distraction. Something to temporarily take my mind off the fact that – at the end of the day – I really don’t like myself.

I know that’s a stupid thing to say. I know that there are a number of things about me that I should (and do, on a conscious level) appreciate about myself. I’m funny. I’m creative. I’m told I somehow manage to inspire people despite not always being able to inspire myself.

On occasion, I’ve even been told I’m handsome, if you can believe it.

See? Look at all that handsome!
See? Look at all that handsome!

I don’t write this with a view towards earning sympathy or fishing for compliments. I know, objectively, I have every reason to be happy. I could easily sit down and list 10, 20, or even 30 reasons why I lead a charmed life.

What Are You Talking About?

I guess I write this as an explanation. Friends, family, and even strangers ask me why I keep traveling. The simple reason is I don’t have a choice.

And, really, it’s a damned enjoyable lifestyle. I know how good I’ve got it. I’ve met some fabulous people, loved (however fleetingly) some pretty fantastic girls, and seen and done a hell of a lot.

As treatments for depression go, it beats the hell out of holistic platitudes and experimenting with medications.

Not that I’d advise it as your sole source of treatment. Someday the ride will have to stop, after all.

Hopefully, by then, I’ll have found whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing.

You Can’t Find Happiness

It might sound a bit airy fairy, but it’s true. You can’t find happiness in a certain place or combination of events.

You can find the ingredients to make you happy, but any happiness you feel – if it’s going to last – needs to come from within you.

God, I hate typing that. It would be so much easier if there were a place I could go where the black dog wouldn’t be able to follow, but it’s not that easy.

The truth is, I travel to find distractions because it’s a hell of a lot more fun than doing the hard yards to be a happier person.

Sadly, happiness is not a gift you can be given. You have to find it yourself.
Sadly, happiness is not a gift you can be given. You have to find it within yourself.

Why spend hours in therapy when I could spend those hours drunk on some exotic, faraway beach?

Why juggle medications and their countless frustrating side effects when I can juggle dates in a cosmopolitan city halfway across the world?

Who has time for intense introspection when there are reefs to be dived, mountains to be climbed, and temples to be gawked at?

Travel isn’t a miracle cure for depression. It’s a wonderful band-aid, and one I’m happy to keep applying, but someday – I guess – I’ll need to acknowledge that travel alone won’t make me a happier person.

You need to believe the above to be happy.
You need to believe the above -at least sometimes – to be truly happy.

Your Say

Why do you travel?

Do you think it’s possible to find happiness on the road? Or, like me, do you think it needs to be found within ourselves?

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