John Matthews explores how a sense of adventure is fundamental to our happiness
It’s a common question to be asked: So when are you happiest?...
For me I am often at my happiest when heading out into the unknown with family or friends, a beautiful landscape and a challenge ahead of me – be it the mountains, the open sea or unexplored terrain. The experience of a shared adventure, good craic and the element of risk is when I feel fully alive – generating a kind of ‘cosmic mindflush’ that can leave me physically challenged yet deeply contented at the same time. This question of what does adventure mean to each of us is important to consider, as it’s this experience of feeling alive that I believe is such a key ingredient to happiness.
One of the eternal mysteries I have spent my entire adult life pondering is happiness: my own, for the people around me, and for humanity in general. It's a big subject and I’m certainly not an expert but I know happiness when I see it.
So what is the connection between an adventurous mindset and our happiness in life? We use the phrase ‘recharge the batteries’ quite a bit but what does that actually mean? We can all recognise the expression of deep satisfaction that you see when someone who has challenged themselves and succeeded – I’m sure you’ll know what I’m referring to here…that look, that twinkle in the eye so striking that it belies a deeper secret born of a sense of empowerment. Adventure makes you powerful, and feeling powerful is a key ingredient to happiness.
It is through this realisation that I see happiness born of three key elements – power, compassion and integrity. We all desire to have compassion for those around us, and integrity is almost universally admired, but how do we get there? I believe the answer is found on the adventure path.
Adventure is something that's new and exhilarating, outside your comfort zone. Adventures change you and how you see the world. And all you need is an open mind, bags of enthusiasm and boundless curiosity.
Adventure, with all its effort, fear, and uncertainty, also creates power. Don’t ask me how but it does. What’s clear is that powerful people are free to choose compassion and integrity, and disempowered people are generally incapable of being either compassionate or acting with integrity. In other words, power is the key that unlocks the door to happiness.
For me adventure sports provide a constant opportunity for growth, curiosity and exploration – keeping you fit, focused and honest. Whether it’s running through the mountains at night, surfing a more advanced wave, or taking on a marathon in the quest for a PB, you have skin in the game and the risks are real. Risk management is part of the deal – and it turns out that the process stimulates this key ingredient to happiness that adventure seems to generate: power.
Now I’m not suggesting for a minute we all take up BASE Jumping or ski across Antarctica - far from it. Not everyone needs to push the envelope this far to enjoy the rewards of adventure - but I bet most people enjoy a little voluntary risk in their lives. That's the choice we make to access the personal power that leads to happiness. Either way the choice is quite personal, but clearly without it life is like a sailboat with no wind, drifting in the doldrums.
You’ll often hear that what we are all seeking is a meaning for life and I agree with that wholeheartedly. However, what we also long for is the intense experience of being alive that adventure brings.
‘I haven’t been everywhere…but it’s on my list.’
Do you agree with me that adventure is fundamental to your own happiness? And what does adventure mean to you?
A favourite quote relating to adventure – I have it framed at home..
‘A moment of gladness….the human departure into lands unknown. Blood rushes with the circulation of childhood’ Sir Richard Burton, Explorer
John Matthews is a Senior Consultant at Impact UK.