We’d been invited to celebrate the wedding of our good friend, in traditional Nepalese style in Kathmandu. Adventure is defined as ‘an unusual, exciting or daring experience’, I figured that was exactly what we needed from a place like Nepal. Having never been there I thought to myself, why not tack on a 7-day, 120-kilometre trek through the Himalayas to Annapurna Base Camp with my eight-year-old son.
This was our time to disconnect from the everyday, immerse ourselves completely in a new culture and environment. Deep down, I felt the Himalayas had a message to share, and I was completely ready to listen to it.
A propeller plane ride over majestical mountain peaks, a 3-hour drive on roads that felt like an animal track and dropped away into steep ravines, a 2.5 metre cobra that slithered across our path, and 4 buffalo awaited us. Adventure had arrived and we were ready for it.
Message One | Slowing Down Can Get You To Your Destination Quicker
We stood at the base of what seemed like a stairway directly to the sky. It was time to begin, we were fit and ready to prove it, so we launched into each step with speed. We’d brought with us the desire to be efficient, finish quickly, and get the job done. An hour later we were well ahead of our guide and our porter, standing at the top of the stairs gasping for air, and ready to collapse… perhaps we weren’t as fit as we’d thought? If this was the start, then how the hell would we get to the end?
The next morning when we set off, I decided to practice what I preach, allow my curiosity to step in and my intentional adaptability to unfold. I slowed right down, walked behind my guide observing the way a highly experienced mountain man approached the complexity of the terrain. His pace was slow and consistent, enabling him to enjoy the experience and sustain. I decided to apply the same practice, and to my surprise each day we landed at our destination well before many of our fellow trekkers. It wasn’t about finishing first, it was about enjoying the journey, and this intentional adaptation allowed us to do exactly that.
The irony was that many fellow trekkers looked at us in sympathy, given we had an eight-year-old child with us. Assuming that it would take us a lot longer and perhaps we wouldn’t make it with a small set of legs in tow… which leads me to my next message from the mountains.
Message Two | Little People Are Stronger Than You Think
When I first inquired about the trek, I was advised by the organisers that children as young as eight do it all the time. However, once we were well into our trek it became clear that this was not as common as I had been led to believe. We did not pass one foreign child the whole way under the age of 13.
The trekking was very tough, to say the least. Between 6-8 hours walking each day, much of it steeply up, and on paths that were laden with large unstable rocks, ice, and snow. Equally, it was a mental challenge being alone with your own thoughts for long periods of time with little to distract you other than nature.
My son Sax took it in his stride. I’m not saying he didn’t complain on occasion, or ask “how far now” but for the most part he was amazing and made the experience just so much more. I was blown away by his resilience, given many adults were struggling. Everywhere we went we had trekkers calling him superboy, fist-bumping him and Nepalese porters handing him Mars bars with high-fives. Grown-ups truly surprised that a young child could embrace such a challenge. This made me wonder how often in our society do we hold our children back to protect them when perhaps the best thing to do is to encourage them to prove what they are capable of and perhaps even surprise themselves.
Message Three | Smiling Can Make A Difficult Challenge An Enjoyable One
Our porter’s name was Don, the first thing that struck me when I met him was his huge infectious smile. Most porters in Nepal carry up to 90% of their body weight. To watch this in action made me feel physically uncomfortable and I often questioned the long-term impact on the body. I became so curious that when I returned home, I researched the life of a porter in order to better understand their job, and how to support them in sustaining their livelihood when I trek in the future.
Every day when we commenced our trek Don would be waiting for us with a huge pack on his back and a massive smile on his face. It did not matter how long we walked for, how steep the incline or how unstable the path, whenever you turned to Don he beamed. Whilst he couldn’t speak English, I asked our guide to ask him why he smiles so much? Don’s reply “smiling makes my job so much more enjoyable”. Don is a smart man, as science has proven that smiling can trick your brain into believing you’re happy, which can then spur actual feelings of happiness. Dr. Murray Grossan, an ENT-otolaryngologist who studies how the brain is connected to the immune system, asserts that it has been shown “over and over again” that whilst depression weakens your immune system, happiness boost our body’s resistance. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of Don’s book and consider smiling our way through adversity and see what happens?
Message Four | The Desire For Human Connection Is Universal
Before we left for Nepal, Sax and I discussed how he might be able to connect with the children in the Himalayas given many of them would not speak English. He’s a huge soccer fan, so we decided to take a soccer ball with us, strapped to his pack in the hope that it would remove the language barrier and enable connection around a shared passion. It turned out to be a brilliant decision. Whilst we discovered there are very few children the higher you get in the mountain regions, that soccer ball enabled us to connect with so many different cultures and turned our late afternoon downtime into community connection and laughter. Sax played soccer with an Italian father in his 70s and his son in his 30s. A young French man who was living in Burma, a Nepalese goat herder in gumboots who had lost his arm due to frostbite when he was a porter many years ago, and a young porter wearing thongs who’s skill blew us away. The mountain reinforced that the desire for human connection is universal, and language need never be a barrier to realising its joy.
We came looking for adventure, but we left with so much more. Life has shown me that often the answers we seek are right in front of us, we just can’t see them because we’re caught up in the noise of life. Intentional Adaptability is born out of space and presence and the Himalayas delivered both in spades. I feel so connected to what this place and its people have to teach that I’m now recruiting peers I admire to return with me in 2020 to trek to Everest base camp… and I will be practicing my smiling the whole way.
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