Recently, I’ve started wondering whether I’ve played some small part, through social media and blogging, in making some people think that the secret to happiness is to go out into the world on a grand adventure. I also wonder if I might have fallen into that trap myself.
For many years now I’ve been convinced that the thing I’m looking for is not happiness; it’s contentedness. Happiness, I now believe, comes in fleeting moments that we should be grateful for. Contentedness is a sustainable state of being: no matter how bad things get, no matter how seemingly routine and boring, no matter how complex, we can still be content.
Travel and adventure are wonderful passions to have. There is so much one can learn about life and about oneself by going out into the world. Travel and adventure have given me rare moments of clarity of mind and heart. They have made me, I feel, more tolerant of others and even of myself. They have given me so much food for thought about faith, politics, human rights, human potential, and what it means to be alive.
There are some things you can only truly learn when you expose yourself and your “givens” to others and to their givens. There are some things you can only truly learn when you shake the foundations of what you thought were truths. Travel is one of many other ways that allows you to do this.
I say this to emphasize that my aim is not to downplay the role travel can play in finding ways to learn and grow. It just isn’t the only way.
Travel is an expensive pursuit. No matter what you do to make it inexpensive – by staying in campsites instead of expensive hotels, by cooking your own food rather than eating at restaurants, by using alternative forms of transport rather than driving or flying – no matter what the heck you do, travel is still an expensive pursuit. In many cases, depending on what your travel dreams are, it also requires commitment. You need to have the time and the means. And in societies such as mine, there are a variety of social, cultural, and religious pressures that make travel extremely difficult.
What concerns me is an apparent rabid frenzy, mainly of commercial industries – travel agents/companies, travel magazines, travel books, travel shows, airlines, etc., trying to convince people that the only way to be happy or content is by running away from the reality you live in.
And let’s be honest: in so many cases, that is what travel and adventure are about for many of us. We’re unhappy with what we have so we run away to look for something else.
It’s not always about that, of course. Nor is it usually only about that. My adventures have allowed me to feel a sense of achievement I’ve needed to regain self-confidence in other aspects of my life. Travel can also lessen the feeling that so many of us have in our Arab autocracies that we’re trapped, that we lack freedom. Being able to have even a limited amount of freedom of movement is an empowering thing.
But when I see young people, especially, feel like they have achieved nothing, that they are permanently trapped, that they have no hope for happiness unless they travel, it pains me. It makes me feel that we’ve all missed the point.
Travel is a means, one of an almost unlimited number of means, to an end. Travel can be a passion, but it doesn’t have to be the only possible passion.
It’s extremely important that we, each and every one of us, find a way to find ourselves. But can we truly find ourselves by limiting ourselves to only one road?
I’ve recently regained my passion for my career. For a time, and because of some very very bad experiences, I thought I had completely lost it. Now that it’s back, I find that the sense of accomplishment I get from writing, the sense of wonder and excitement I feel every single time I read a new research paper or I speak with a scientist about their work (I write about science), the sense of liberation I feel by relearning almost every day that knowledge has no bounds, is almost akin to the accomplishment, wonder, and liberation I feel when I travel.
Oddly enough, tidying up my small house, making it more comfortable and pleasing to the eye for me and my family, gives me an intense feeling of contentedness and satisfaction.
Getting through a 45-minute spinning session at the gym and coming out of it drenched in sweat from head to toe or getting a new personal best time on a five kilometer run make me feel like king of the world.
Learning a new language makes me feel like a tongue-tied dunce, to be honest. But the challenge of doing it gives me happiness like no other and teaches me things about other cultures and peoples I would never learn simply by travelling to their countries.
Seeing my children smile, hearing my husband laugh, getting a visit from dear friends and chatting the night away, receiving a thank you note through social media from complete strangers because something I wrote resonated with them…all these give me intense feelings of happiness and satisfaction that travel and adventure can never give me.
I love travelling and I hope to continue going on adventures. But if my own journey of self-discovery has taught me anything, it’s that most of the time the things that give me the most happiness and the most contentedness are right in front of my nose.
Travelling is one among a million ways that can open up your mind to the possibilities. Don’t allow the thought of travel to limit you and hold you back.