In my younger days, I always thought that pursuing happiness is the key to a fulfilling life.
Starry-eyed and vaguely cheerful, I thought the world would be a better place if everyone chases their happy pill. When people seek my advice, I would always share a barrage of positive, optimistic and uplifting ideas.
Having a burnout? Need an escape from your endless parade of bills and workload? I’d often say travel, and find your happiness.
Unhappy with your boss or at work? Go find greener pastures elsewhere, just like what I did in my 20s.
But, today, as I’m standing on the summit of San Carlos Heights in Quiot, Cebu, the voices in my head are singing a different tune.
And, I’m beginning to realize that my perception about happiness was hazy.
While I relish the moment of completing another long day hike, my inner monologue is screaming and chanting “fuck pursuing happiness”.
Say adios to the never-ending quest of happiness!
It’s overrated, and an absolute waste of time.
And, no, I’m not feeling downbeat and miserable. On the contrary, my happy hormones are spiking naturally.
After a day of hiking a different version of the Spartan Trail, the voices in my head finally finished their debate.
And, they are all saying that people should not pursue happiness. Instead, you should chase a different emotional state that may seem milder and more passive form of happiness.
Thanks to my hyper-active mind, I now realize that our relentless quest to find it is, in reality, distracting us from achieving a pure state of well-being.
I know it seems incredibly ridiculous, but allow me to explain it to you, as I recall our Spartan Trail hike.
Why should not chase happiness
Who doesn’t want happiness? Isn’t that something we all strive for?
Isn’t happiness our end goal? Isn’t it the driving force that gives us a purpose in life?
But, what exactly is it?
For some people, happiness is having high grades, being popular at school, attaining great education and getting a high-paying job.
Some also find their happy pill by having a perfect life partner, a gorgeous home and owning the latest car models.
And, others pursue it by going on “life-changing vacations”, or visiting “must-see” destinations.
Yet, a lot of people have achieved everything I’ve said, and still feel unfulfilled, empty and shitty about themselves.
And, here I am, broke, muddy and sweaty standing on a hill bordering Tisa and Buhisan, feeling like the king of the world.
I had good grades in college, yet I wasn’t happy. I’ve traveled to foreign lands, and hit must-see spots, but I still felt there was something missing. I’ve achieved so much, and I still felt so hollow inside.
Somehow, though, I feel more fulfilled on this low-key and unique day hike in Cebu. And, ironically, I’m not even chasing happiness. I stopped doing that a few years ago.
Perhaps, happiness is subjective. Or, perhaps, those Disney fairy tales and our modern-day culture have painted an inaccurate and twisted picture of happiness.
Happiness means different things to different people. There’s no specific recipe, formula or guarantee to achieve it.
And, for the most part, we turn to popular culture to paint an image of happiness. Popular culture, then, tells that happiness looks like sunny days, smiling faces, fancy clothes, money and jewelry.
From a young age, both society and popular culture have taught us that to be happy, we need to be successful, have loads of money and have an ever-smiling family.
And, if we don’t have that mold of what happiness looks like, we sometimes feel like we’re failing.
We, then, feel like an absolute piece of shit.
That’s why I stopped chasing it. Instead of uplifting moods, the chase is actually causing people stress, anxiety and depression.
Wake up, folks! How do commercials and Instagram influencers know what’s best for you? Why do we keep chasing this hedonic form of happiness?
We’re all born to trailblaze and create our own path. We don’t exactly have to follow the blueprint and social expectations that have been laid out for us.
So, create your own rules, and don’t let society steer your life with the promise of eternal happiness.
I’m one of those people who don’t follow the society’s blueprint.
I don’t have a traditional office job, and I don’t drive a car.
I don’t have tons of Instagram followers, and I don’t even have Twitter or a Vlog.
Heck, I can’t even remember when was the last time I bought a shirt for myself. I guess that was two years ago.
Do I feel like a piece of shit, though? Hell, no.
Gazing at the striking overlooking view of Cebu, I’m in awe and in a happy state.
But, I know this happy moment won’t last long. And, that’s one of the reasons I don’t chase happy pills.
Like the pleasure of indulging a sweet treat, happiness is fleeting. It’s a state that wanes and waxes, meaning it’s not a sustainable trait.
On our way to the famous mango tree in Spartan Trail, I figured out why people are so miserable these days.
The problem with our society and culture today is that we’re pushing ourselves to be happy every second of our day.
We obsess over the idea of being happy all the time. And, we tend to ruin the beauty of it by over-analyzing and overthinking.
As a result, we create an unhealthy and enormous amount of pressure on ourselves.
What’s more, it’s impossible to be happy every minute of your day. Life always has its ups and downs. If we don’t achieve our goal of perpetual happiness, and we try to find it at all costs, we eventually make ourselves more miserable.
So, ironically, the relentless quest for this feeling is actually unhealthy, counterproductive and is even causing anxiety.
Eventually, we arrived at the mango tree along Spartan Trail. For a fleeting moment, we were happy to create a new entry point for this beloved hiking trail in Cebu.
Soon, we sprinted downhill to keep the momentum going.
Spartan Trail isn’t exactly the most challenging hiking route in Cebu. Still, it’s a hiker’s favorite, thanks to a diverse set of obstacles and challenges.
You’ll have to go against the flow, cross streams, climb a waterfall, and hit some challenging slopes.
On our final ascend, I felt a little pain on my quads and knees.
And, somehow, the pain I felt reminds me of life.
Pain, in a way, is a wondrous tool. Through pain, we grow and learn. And through pain, we learn to appreciate every positive thing that happens to us.
If life was an endless series of blissful moments, it would be a remarkably dull and boring existence. There’s nothing to celebrate, and all our triumphs and joys would be completely meaningless.
If Spartan Trail had flat terrain with very few obstacles and challenges, do you think it would be as appealing as it is today?
In life, we need challenges, failures and pain, to fully appreciate and understand the happy moments.
Without darkness, we can’t distinguish light.
And, without sadness and pain, we can’t understand happiness.
So, to live a fulfilling life, embrace all emotions. If you spend your entire life trying to be happy, you’ll miserably fail. You’ll end up just as disgruntled and discontent as the majority of today’s population.
Soon, we arrived at Bagsakan, Pamutan where we took a breather and ate our lunch. As we were enjoying a smorgasbord of dishes, the heavens opened, and released a sea.
We usually don’t have a fixed plan whenever we hike. Although we have goals in mind, we don’t set high expectations for our hikes.
We just go with the flow, and follow wherever the Universe takes us. In fact, our goal in this hike was just to commune with nature, and enjoy a heart-pumping, fat-burning workout.
And, maybe, that’s what makes our hikes so joyful and memorable. Just like the way I live my life, we don’t chase happy pills or set unrealistic expectations.
We make up as we go, and make happiness extremely easy to grasp.
As we were hiking Spartan Trail, Beboy and I agreed to stop by the scenic Pamutan Grasslands.
It was a random, out-of-the-blue decision that we made along the way.
Unfortunately, the rain prevented us from hitting the picturesque spot. With heavy downpours and muddy trails, it definitely wasn’t ideal to hike the Pamutan Grasslands on that rainy day.
Did this setback curb our enthusiasm or make us feel downbeat? Nope. We didn’t set the bar high, so it didn’t bother us a bit.
Even with the grey skies, slippery roads and heavy rain, we still went on with our hike. So, instead of venturing into Pamutan, we decided to go with our random Plan B: San Carlos Heights.
It has been raining cats and dogs since we left Bagsakan. And, it probably will last for a few more hours.
But, it’s okay.
It’s temporary and fleeting. We just have to accept the circumstance, embrace it, and move forward.
From Toong, we hit the pathway that will eventually lead us to Antuwanga and San Carlos Heights.
Truthfully, the hike up is fairly easy. But, it can be a tough one if you have heavy load. Since I’m a light packer, I didn’t struggle on this 18-kilometer journey.
On our way up, I remember a man who had everything his heart desires.
He traveled around the world.
He had wealth, power, influence and a beautiful family.
And, he kept chasing his own paradise, and even built one on his own private land where he resides today.
Yet, the man always felt miserable and full of resentment.
No matter how hard he tried, he never found his pure bliss.
And, that man is my father.
As I admired the sea of fog in front of me, soaking up the tranquility and beauty, I figured out why he was unhappy all those years.
Soon after, I discovered the real key to a truly fulfilling life.
And, that is inner peace.
Why choose peace over happiness?
Most of us look for a quick fix to fill a void that makes us unhappy.
We go from one partner to another, move cities and travel to foreignd lands. And, we do all of that in pursuit of a perpetual series of joyful activities. But, what happens in between those blissful moments?
What will happen when you have to face the missing piece or void that you’re trying to escape?
Traveling and momentary joyful experiences provide you a temporary escape from any bad feeling. But, that void or bad feeling won’t go away.
Even if you fly thousands of miles away from where you are now, you’ll still be carrying that heavy load. And, once you’re alone with no exciting activity at hand, you’ll feel miserable.
It will remain with you, unless you face it.
Trust me, you can’t outrun loneliness, boredom and sadness. You need to find inner peace and learn how to deal with all negative emotions.
That’s why I focus more on attaining peace than chasing those so-called happy moments.
Peace is an eternal state that exists in your daily life. When you feel peace, you’ll find a sense of emotional security or comfort even in difficult times.
When it’s raining, embrace the circumstance, and move on. Just imagine how hard it’s trying to be happy after a breakup. How can you experience joy when you just lost someone in your life to cancer or Covid-19?
Peace will give you a sense of acceptance, whatever comes your way. Even when you’re overwhelmed with negative emotions, peace lets you power through them.
I have found peace years ago. In 2017, my peaceful life got disrupted a bit because I was chasing those blissful moments.
Now, I’m back to my peaceful and tranquil state, savoring the beauty, eccentricities and challenges of life.
As for my father, he is on the verge of finding his inner peace. I can see the progress in eyes, whenever he sees his grandchildren.
From San Carlos Heights, we slowly hiked our way down to 711 Quiot.
And, guess what? It was a moment of bliss for me. I felt those butterflies fluttering inside my stomach, even though I wasn’t chasing that elusive feeling.
I guess the Buddhists were right. Maybe, inner peace is the first stage to pure and unadulterated happiness or nirvana.
And, by the way, happiness isn’t overrated.
But, the pursuit of it is toxic, overrated and a waste of time.
Speaking of happy moments, check out Beboy’s video of this hike in Cebu City.