I’ve always remembered the last words of the young, naïve and idealistically elite explorer “Alexander Supertramp” from the movie Into The Wild, when he says, only days before dying alone, starving in the Alaskan bush: “happiness is only real if it’s shared.” I’ve come to have a mixed opinion on that lovely yet lonely quote. I do believe that happiness is found easier when shared with another, someone to reminisce with, laugh about the crazy times with, sit with, eat with and watch the sunrise with. But, I also find that those times alone, finding déjà vu in a train station, being approached by toothless gypsies, people watching on a bench in Amsterdam, eating a beautiful quiet meal on a small street in Stuttgart, watching the sun set over strange hills, all become part of your own version of happiness in life. If happiness is shared, that means that 100% of the moment’s happiness is split 50/50 and each member gets half of a shared memory, each with its own subjective beauty and experience. If happiness is found unaccompanied, it’s possible to have an objective view of a subjective experience, perhaps making it feel realer, perhaps opening it up to a more romantic or fanciful recollection.
I think what young Supertramp meant, and what he may have been feeling, slowly, helplessly weakening in an abandoned bus deep in Denali National Park, was that people give our lives an added dimension unable to be found in isolation. Love, sharing, connection, friendship and community can help us feel, place, and appreciate that incommunicable bond of the universal suffering within this most beauteous and bountiful planet. Maybe he realized that his pain would be over soon, but that it continues for others. Maybe he realized that the joy and peace he found in solitude could’ve been shared with others.
Nobody really knows what he felt, nobody really knows what I feel, and nobody really knows what you feel. Life, existence and reality are all subjective. Seven billion people, all experiencing their own version of the world, together, in an unknowable, sometimes sensed, always utterly personal, dynamic domain. Two people can watch the same starry sky and feel two completely different emotions due to their varying life experiences; but as they both slowly reach out to hold hands in the darkness, they realize this one modest relationship has brought them both a simple, mutual satisfaction. One person may see that mixture in the sky of gaseous explosions and unfathomable distances and find meaning from the opposing combination of one’s insignificance and the cosmic substance within his or her own being.
Is happiness found in solitude or only real if shared? Probably neither. I think it’s found with a healthy mix of both. I find the smiles of making others laugh and cheek-hurting joking with friends is akin in pleasure to the quiet nights alone with a good book in bed. Hiking with friends and discussing life thoughts is fun in a different way than hiking alone with your own life thoughts. Life provides us with so much opportunity for choices, that it becomes overwhelming sometimes. We must constantly choose what to do with our waking moments. Do we go to the dance club? I’ve felt more isolated in crowded dance clubs than alone on mountaintops. Do we go hiking? I’ve felt more connection with life on that mountain than in packed dance clubs. Can you sympathize with this conclusion? I wouldn’t want to live on a deserted island and I wouldn’t want any company either.