Happiness, Loneliness, and Nature
Throughout the past years, there’s been a recurring theme in my life that keeps coming back even though I don’t actively seek it. I’ve never been an active pursuer of nature, and yet, it is everywhere I go.
I’m aware this sounds foolish. Nature is everywhere. No matter where I go, I will always find ways of engaging with it. That’s something that only recently I’ve started to understand. Most importantly, I’ve come to realize that nature is an important part of who I am. As a matter of fact, nature is part of who we all are. Although we all experience nature in different ways, we are all in touch with it somehow.
Just as nature’s presence keeps popping up in my life, so is the movie Into the Wild. This masterpiece directed by Sean Penn came out in 2007, and since then it’s been coming and going into and out of my life.
Based on Jon Krakauer’s book of the same name, Into the Wild tells the story of a man who’s just out of college and experiences a complete lack of connection with the world he knows. Many of us have probably felt this sensation at some point. I have.
If Into the Wild has had an impact on me, it is definitely the way it has made me question my role with nature and what it means in the bigger picture of my life. Because of this tension, I’ve constantly found myself questioning what my purpose in life is and whether I can achieve happiness by myself or not.
The Idea of Happiness
A lot has been said about happiness. Is it achievable? If it is, how can we do it? Is it the right thing to focus on? These are all important questions. However, there is one question that often does not get the attention it deserves. I’m talking about the matter of whether happiness is an individual or a collective issue.
Personally, I find the idea of happiness very conflicting in this sense. On the one hand, happiness that depends on others is problematic. Other people can often let us down. In other words, there is a lot that can go wrong when we tie our happiness to others, making it hard to think of happiness as something that can actually be attained when it depends on others.
On the other hand, happiness for oneself seems like a selfish idea. Additionally, I can’t help but question if individual happiness is attainable at all. I find it very hard to think of my happiness knowing that others are suffering, but I’m aware that this is also foolish thinking. There will always be suffering, and tying my happiness to that of others means that I will never be able to be truly happy.
Into the Wild puts this debate at the center when it follows the adventures of its main character. Troubled by life in the modern world, he finds himself struggling to cope with society as he seems to find no purpose in it all.
Instead of taking a negative stance on life based on this situation, he decides to go out into the world and explore it. He throws away everything that connects him to his life and decides to start a new one. He even creates a new name for himself, helping him cement his new identity.
Although there is a bit of romanticism and naivete in his decision to leave everything behind and start anew, he is able to approach life in a new way, one that his previous life would not allow him. The more I think about it, the more this makes sense to me.
We are often so constrained within the person we have become that we rarely have the chance to explore other ways of being, even if our conventional self makes us unhappy. The sole idea of leaving the boundaries of our self aside is something that many of us find inconceivable. However, can we ever be happy if we can’t allow ourselves to find that what really makes us happy?
Our lives can, in a way, make us happy, but is that kind of happiness the one we are really after? It is a hard question to answer, and the best way to start doing so is by exploring other ways of being.
One of the ways that I personally find to be very powerful is through being alone. There is something very powerful in loneliness that helps one come into touch with our deepest desires and fears. By removing everything else from our lives, we are somehow able to connect with some of the most essential aspects of our nature. But this is very hard. Loneliness is, most of the time, a negative thing, and reframing it as something positive requires some major strength.
Nature the Nurturer
I think Into the Wild is a great example that this can be done. We don’t all need to leave everything behind and start a new life in order to find happiness. However, we can all change our lives and leave aside some of the things that don’t make us happy at an essential level.
Nature can help us with this. It isn’t necessary to become a hermit living in the woods by yourself. Just to come in contact with it at a deep level every once in a while has the power to put things into perspective.
It can also help us rethink the things we love and how we relate to others. In nature, nothing happens out of the blue. Everything belongs to an interconnected web where what happens on one end of the web can influence its opposite. In the end, it is a way of helping us answer the initial question of whether happiness is something that happens at the individual. Is it something that becomes real only when shared?
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