Don’t lie for happiness

Adventure Journal is a website that on most days I love to hate, for its click baitness and lifestyleish vacuity, but fairly often it publishes an essay of real profundity, which most of you simply must read.  This is one of those.



Social media is dangerous.  Not so much because on the internet money and editing can buy representations of places which are so fake they build expectations which will likely never be met, but because too much time looking at the curated (i.e. fake) pictures other folks present of their lives can reset ones internal compass so thoroughly that a life of infinite resignation becomes almost inevitable.  So do not, like the courageous Ms. Purington, pretend that your life is something that it is not.  This tells you, almost without exception, that you want things to do other than what they are.  Do not waste time trying to embrace things that you do not actually like; one of the higher forms on enlightenment (and thus, happiness) is not being able to identify those pursuits which will give your life meaning, it is being able to cast off without regret those which will not.

For the last six months Saturdays have been mine and Little Bears alone, while M works.  I’ve learned the hard way that mountain biking on even remotely challenging trails is out, and I’ve mostly succeeded in giving up any regret and loving the fire road rides with plenty of walking breaks along the way (top photo).  The warm weather and low water of late summer has allowed a few one-parent packraft journeys, though keeping him from wandering off while I rig things is complicated (bottom photo) and prudence restricts us to very mellow water and short routes.

Even so, I catch myself not just only portraying and capturing (in pixels and in memories) the most palatable moments, but easily forgetting the moments of stress, lost sleep, and general existential despair which seems to go hand and hand with the first few years of parenting.  I get angry at myself for this, as it’s the first step down becoming part of a world whose portrayal of parenting is criminally rosy and optimistic.

At the same time, there is little point in excessive self-abnegation, or indeed navel gazing of any kind, positive or negative.  Which is why I’m inclined to let videos like the above stand, largely hate-free.  On the one hand it’s a cheap, short, reductive portrayal of what was surely a profound backpacking trip.  (They seem to have gone through a week or two after Skurka and I, and in the opposite direction.)  On the other it captures the profundity of that remarkable traverse very well, and the presentation is as direct and precious as it is inherently incomplete.

So be careful out there, the world of representation is a hazardous one.


8 responses to “Don’t lie for happiness”

  1. The “portrayal of parenting is criminally rosy and optimistic”? You didn’t have close friends or a brother/sister that already have children? They could have told you that it is hard. And, knowing what they know now, they wouldn’t choose children again. Or wishing a child had an off-switch, so they could get some sleep for once. But they only tell you that if you know them very well. My idea is: people having romantic ideas about having a child aren’t paying attention and/or don’t want to see the truth. But maybe there is a cultural difference and Americans don’t tell each other these things.

    1. I can only speak to the US, but yes. There are strong cultural mores here about what parts of childrearing are acceptable to share, and they mostly involve your children being utterly delightful (scampish and joyfully challenging at worst), and never, ever causing you to cry out of weariness or frustration.

  2. The boundaries between sharing, oversharing, and curating in the age of instant digital media are unhelpfully murky.

  3. Yes. Exactly this. Been reading through some of your posts over the last few months–good to hear similar feelings regard social media, being a parent, and adventure. Oftentimes, I am learning, that adventure with a toddler is exactly whatever–and wherever–you make it. Thanks for being so candid.

  4. Thanks for the article and the links that come with it.
    There is another effect: I remember – because i wrote it down – having had a lot of pain on a one month trough-hike. My knees, my shoulders and above all my feet. Pain was everywhere an omnipresent. But when I think of the trip, I don’t think of the pain :-).

  5. ” the moments of stress, lost sleep, and general existential despair which seems to go hand and hand with the first few years of parenting.”
    preach it, brother..
    my kids are now 18 and 15, the stress and existential despair don’t go away. On the other hand there seems a fair chance the older boy may become a productive member of society at some point, and he has a gift for happiness. Lucky for him, he takes after his mother. The younger is unique, clever and stubborn. He may do wonderful things or live in my basement for years, reply hazy try again.

    Those are very cute pictures of your young’un.. looks wonderful ;-)

    We switched from mostly backpack to mostly canoe trips when they were small. Throw ’em out the boat to swim when they get bored and whiny, water play dissolves many tantrums. Also you don’t have to deal with “I’m TIRED..” and sitdown strikes. In recent years it’s been immensely rewarding to take the Boy Scouts out on backpacks, numbers of these boys would not have the backpacking opportunity except through Scouts. I detest being a Scoutmaster but there are rewards..

    Thank you for the NY Times link, makes sad sense.

    1. I do worry my sleep will never be quite the same again. But I’m sure we’ll manage.

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