The Pursuit of Happiness

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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?

From Facebook


  1. “Why do you travel?”

    To form perspective and alliances, to immerse in cultures and traditions foreign to my own, to listen to the many stories strangers and fellow travellers love to share, to observe the many characteristics held in beings known as humans. I find traveling a great (if not primary) source for my creativity, and without it I feel stagnant not just physically, but also with my ideas and storytelling in my filmmaking.

    “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?”

    There is always a fleeting moment of happiness on the road. I think it stems from experiencing an activity or feeling in which, if it were to happen in every day drudgery, would or could be exhilarating in another country – the sense of urgency at home is stressful, but the sense of urgency whilst traveling induces adrenalin. Buying waffles at a street vendor in Vietnam as opposed to packet waffles from the freezer in the supermarket for morning rush before work. Big breakfasts will never be as big as the ones in NYC. That juxtaposition of home life and life abroad resets my perspective, and the happiness I get is not from the actual experience abroad, but knowing that I can distinguish the two and appreciate that particular act for what it is. For example, I’m always grateful for being able to have Nutella spoonfuls out of a jar at home, as well as having had Nutella crepes in the streets of Paris – in essence I am grateful of Nutella, no matter where I am.

    So yes, I think happiness is within ourselves, as I believe you bring happiness with you wherever you go. For me, what makes me happy is doing what I love, either as a career or as side projects. I love to create and collaborate, and that for me is anywhere and everywhere, which makes me happy. 😀

    So maybe traveling for you, Chris, enables you to write. Which is a step closer to making you happy, yes? I could be wrong. 😛

    • I really, really like the second point you make about this fleeting moments of happiness you get from doing things, when juxtaposed to things ‘at home’, offer an entirely new and more pleasing experience. I hadn’t ever thought to put it into words like that, but I definitely became addicted to the fact that every single day abroad (especially in a non English speaking country) brought little challenges. Even buying toothpaste in China could be a bit of an adventure the first time around.

      I can’t say I’ve ever found happiness on the road that was anything more than fleeting, but that could be the MDD talking :-p I’m intensely difficult to please, haha.

      • I dunno to be honest if there is such thing as “happiness” that lasts longer than a fleeting moment. People can have a happy disposition, but they aren’t necessarily “happy”. I’m always cheerful, even if I’m feeling a little lost or sad inside… I believe the pursuit of happiness has always been something marketed for commercial purposes, as well as a social expectation that has been manufactured so that if they don’t have religion, they have it within themselves.

        This is definitely a little philosophical, probably a little too much for my liking at the moment hehehehe. 😛

        • I get what you’re saying, but I certainly believe there’s a more happy medium than the general level of listless despair that depression seems to leave me in 😛

          I’m great at faking happy, but that might just be my theatrical training 😉

  2. Very interesting post. When I first travelled I was still suffering from all kinds of anxiety issues (I actually have a post coming soon about this!) which almost made me not travel, but then I realised I was WAY healthier when I travelled. Coming home was then very hard – although all good now. But I guess I’m trying to say – I relate! These days I have figured out how to be happy wherever I am, I think. Well, most of the time … but travelling is still always the best!!!!

    • I hear you on that! While it hasn’t cured anything, travel has certainly given me the perspective and strength of character I need to better tackle my demons 🙂

  3. This is so interesting topic for discussion. An excellent post!

    To the 1st question of yours:
    If I travel Europe as a tourist I enjoy new treats, it provides me distraction, it is simply fun.
    But when I wander around the countryside in my country, this kind of walking gets deeper sense. Carrying the whole home on my back, sleeping under stairs, drinking watter from the creeks and eating modestly, I feel to be free and in harmony with the whole existence including myself. My mind is calm and my heart smiles. I have never known more amazing feeling. It can be reached by various ways, certainly (meditation,great sex with beloved person, holding your new born baby in your arms etc.)

    To the 2th question:
    I totaly agree with you. They say: “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” And I believe that happiness is in the mind of the beholder. I find it to be a kind of the skill, the matter of our will. At least to some extend. I know very well from my past, if deep depression come, your mind gets sick, providing sick thoughts and your will is so faint.
    If you do what you love (whatever it is), it helps you to be happy, no question about it. I think we all should devote our lives to what we love. But (at least in my opinion), the permanent happiness is a delusion. Sadness felt at times is a part and parcel of our lives.

    • Well said, Sarka! Thanks for the comment 🙂

      I need to spend more time wandering around my own country. It’s just so damned big and hot! :-p

  4. Hi there, I used to love travel because it was a form of escape for me. I hated the place where I was from- too small, hot, congested, I felt claustrophobic. But now my reasons have changed. Whilst I still love traveling (even more in fact), I now travel to experience different cultures and lifestyles. I have this funny dream of living like a ‘day in the life’ of people all over the world.

    Anyways , thanks for sharing your thoughts with us! It’s always a pleasure to read them 🙂

    • I definitely think that the different cultures and lifestyles are a fascinating element of traveling. I love familiarising myself with a new and ‘strange’ (from a western stand-point) culture and adopting the elements of it that I find to be charming.

      Thanks for reading 🙂

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