Seeking out a punishing physical or mental experience takes some kind of masochistic attitude that I have been cultivating for years.
I call these sufferfests.
I'm not exactly sure where these started. These bouts of suffer-filled adventures that leave my body aching, my hands too cold or too hot, my face dirty and quite often my stomach empty.
But I seek them out.
Biking 50 miles with no training? Sure why not.
Hiking up the side of an active volcano? Ok sure.
Sleeping in an airport after walking 500 miles in the rain? Sounds cheaper than a hotel.
These sufferfests hurt, and quite often I leave thinking I'll never do that again even if someone paid me.
However, they offer an important counterpoint for the comforts of everyday life. Food never tastes as good as on the top of a mountain. A hot shower is one of the greatest luxuries of the modern day after freezing on a surfboard. And sleeping in feels better when my body aches from the most recent hike or climb or bike ride.
I don't think you can have an appreciation for life without a little bit of suffering.
Nature holds these places of suffering for me. Rock climbing is all about exposing yourself to the elements and proving that you can still make it to the top. Being in the van is another way of doing this. I'm closer to nature, I'm closer to suffering, and I'm closer to happiness.
There was a comic that the Oatmeal wrote a few months ago about how 'happiness' is not something that anyone should try to attain. It's not really something that can be sustained. Happiness is a byproduct of being compelled and being challenged even when something hurts.
Does rock climbing make me happy? Most of my time climbing is full of failure and frustration.
My favorite activities are defined by excessive, overwhelming failure coupled with physical pain and exhaustion.
My fingers are rubbed raw, my hands bleed, I bruise my legs, my toes blister, my face burns from the sun and the wind, my eyes water, my clothes tear, and almost always I fail.
These things individually make me miserable. I can't stand it when I've been trying something over and over again and I keep falling, or I'm too scared to go on. I cry and I'm afraid and I hate it.
But climbing compels me. It challenges me. It's a sufferfest.
I challenge you, reader, to find something that makes you suffer. Something that hurts a whole lot.
Something that makes you feel like you can't do it, something that hurts your body, something that makes you cold and tired and miserable. The more awful the better. I challenge you to find this, and when it's over, think about how good that shower feels. Think about how even though it was awful, you did it. Think about how good that food tastes. How beautiful that sunrise was. How clear the night sky is when it's below freezing. Think about how comfortable your bed is now that you don't have to sleep on the ground anymore. Think about how strong you are, how you did it.
Suffer. And be happy.