Eva’s 100 miles for Mommy

Some things are very difficult to understand. I’m OK with basic chemistry, atoms and electrons but I start to lose it when it comes to black holes, quarks and as for Higgs boson, well I don’t like to think about it because it makes my head hurt. But all of these things pale in their complexity when compared to trying to understand happiness.

I’ve been pondering the whole subject of happy over the last couple of days prompted by an incredible event that I was lucky enough to be a small part of. It was an event that spurned huge amounts of happiness but also a fair amount of sadness too and it put them together in a blender and produced something that was very difficult to pin down and explain but I’m going to try anyway.

A whole lot of happiness

A whole lot of happiness

The event that I am referring to was a multi-day sponsored bike ride around the Fylde which in itself is nothing remarkable until you consider that the leader of the ride was just seven years old and the distance covered over the five days was a shade over one hundred miles! As is so often in these cases the background to this amazing achievement is a tragic one which is where all the sadness I referred to came from. Eva, our ride leader, lost her Mommy to cancer last year and she told her Dad that she wanted to do something really special in memory of her. Her Dad Gareth and his daughter are both keen cyclists so a bike ride of some kind was probably inevitable but nobody expected Eva to opt for such an ambitious challenge. After five days of riding the journey ended in a celebration at the local cricket club but it was a celebration tinged with pain and sadness for many. Eva seemed to take the whole thing in her stride and while many of the adult riders bemoaned their aching muscles and tender backsides at the end of the final day Eva celebrated with a game of football with her chums.

Pround Dad

Proud Dad

I met Gareth, Eva’s Dad, through our shared interests of cycling and writing and as I said goodbye to him yesterday he mentioned that he would like his next blog to be a happier one than some of those in the past and that is what got me really thinking about how we get happy and stay happy. Gareth lost his wife in the most awful circumstances to an extremely aggressive form of cancer and he appears to be doing a truly amazing job of bringing up his two small daughters, Eva and Isla, in what must, at times, feel like a whole sea of despair. You have to wonder what chance happiness has of surviving in such a situation but survive it surely does.

For me, happiness is something that comes in moments rather than continuously or permanently because it is something that requires a whole host of elements to be present at the same time. Contentment, security, friends, love, humour, comfort and many more components all have to be present to make us feel truly happy and when you take any one of them away the danger is that the happy bubble bursts. Take one away and replace it with grief and happiness is always going to struggle. Well that is what I thought until my experience over the last two days watching Eva’s ever smiling face as she pedalled furiously up the steepest of hills and never once complained. There was so much fun and laughter and pure joy during those rides it was as if somebody was building the most magnificent cathedral on what had been a derelict bomb site.

Happiness really is such a slippery thing to get to grips with. I sometimes think that it is something that we can share. Being with happy people is infectious like laughter or smiling so that presumes that only really happy people can share it out. Maybe we have to share it out to enjoy it. It’s all very well having a whole birthday cake to yourself but at some point it will make you sick if you don’t share it with others. So here is the real dilemma for me; Gareth and his lovely little girls have every reason to be a bit low on the happiness stakes and yet they seem to have been able to share enormous quantities of it and make dozens, if not hundreds of people very happy. Of course their terrible loss forces us look at ourselves and realise how fortunate we are to have the friends and loved ones that we do but it also gives us hope. It shows us that even the most desperate, desolate bomb site can one day become the foundation for a new and beautiful garden of flowers.

The inspirational Eva

The inspirational Eva

There has been a deluge of heart felt messages on social media today congratulating Gareth and Eva for what they have achieved. Most of them refer to the huge amount of money that has been raised, and the incredible achievement of a seven year old riding a hundred miles in five days. I will second all of those thoughts but I also want to add a great big thank you to Gareth and Eva for the sheer volume of happiness that they have managed to create in the world. That happiness will spread outwards just like ripples in a pond and those ripples will eventually bounce back to them. That’s when I hope Gareth will be able to write his happy blog and I for one will look forward to reading it.

You can read more about Eva’s ride on Facebook by clicking this link. Or, just go here to donate.

We have lift off

Well I was going to say that the rocket has been wheeled out onto the launch pad and is ready for take off. Unfortunately the analogy doesn’t work for two reasons. Firstly, our departure will never be, in any way, similar to a rocket taking off and secondly, the launch has already happened.

We have lift off! Sort of.

We have lift off! Sort of.

Ever since we fixed a departure date and time I have been counting down in a NASA type fashion. Firstly in months, then weeks and finally days but I’m not doing it anymore. Yesterday was our final day in the house and we moved our belongings into storage and locked both house and the storage unit up for the last time. We have come to stay with our friends Shona and Les for three days and it feels very much as if our journey has begun. I always thought that nine o’clock on Saturday morning would be the moment that felt like the start but I was wrong. Now I realise that the time we spend with friends, family and as yet unknown other hosts is every bit a part of this adventure as the cycling is, so we don’t actually need to get on the bikes to feel like we are on our way.

So, the big question. How do I feel? That’s what I have been asked most over the last twenty four hours. Excited is the obvious emotion but I don’t think it is the most dominant. Not when I really stop and analyse how I am feeling. It’s a casserole of feelings melded into a general sense of liberation and relief. Freedom, anticipation, fear and excitement are all playing a part but so also is privilege. It’s a privilege to be able to make this life changing journey because not everybody gets the opportunity. To be able to give up our jobs and our homes and take six months to do something we have long dreamed of is a wonderful thing. I’m not just talking about financial freedom or the fact that we have an amazing network of family and friends that are enabling us to do this. Of course they are an essential ingredient and we very much appreciate their support but there is another vital ingredient in this mix. That ingredient is motivation.

People will tell you that they would love to just “take off” on an adventure of their own and then they will explain why they can’t. It usually involves money, jobs, lack of physical fitness and a host of other reasons that are very real to them. I understand that for some people it really is extremely difficult because of commitments to family but they are the exception rather than the rule. Most of these other objections can be overcome if the desire is strong enough. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune, there is no law that says you can’t give up your job and you don’t have to be very fit to drive a car or a motorhome. I think the real reason that most people don’t cast off the bowlines, as Mark Twain put it, (allegedly) is simply because they just don’t want to. And that’s fine. That really is OK. That is why I feel lucky, because I really want to do it. We both do. That’s why it is actually going to happen. Is happening in fact. We’ve been told lots of times that we are brave to do this thing but I don’t see it like that at all. We are just fulfilling a long held dream because we want to. It really is that straight forward.

So if you want to know how I feel right now the answer is happy. Happy and content. Oh, OK then, and a little bit excited.

Give more, get more

If you want to restore your faith in human kindness join an internet forum and ask for help.

I am always amazed at the kindness of complete strangers offering help to fellow members of interest groups. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is cyclists, campers or just consumers. If you ask for help you will generally receive it. Since making our plans we have been offered accommodation, the loan of equipment and storage facilities by people we have never met and who know nothing of our axe murdering past. Only joking, it was a hammer, not an axe and they shouldn’t have been standing there anyway. But seriously, I am overwhelmed by how much people want to help.

It seems to be a fundamental aspect of humanity though, this helpfulness. Talk to anybody who has travelled in a self-sufficient manner and they will regale you with astonishing tales of generosity and trust. Of course it isn’t unique to travellers but travel lends itself to situations where one party has a need and the other a solution. What is more, I actually think that these exchanges are a core part of what makes travelling special.

There has been a lot of discussion around the benefits of giving to others and its effect on the donor. If you Google (other search engines are available) “giving makes you happy” you will find lots of serious work around the theory. The general conclusion is that giving to others makes you happy. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. So if giving makes the giver happy, and at the same time solves a problem for the recipient, it is like a nuclear reaction of wellbeing. Both parties feel better and then feed off the positive energy of the other.


Gandhi would have approved of Warmshowers I’m sure

I don’t know if the type of giving matters. Whether giving money to charity is the same as giving a bed to a stranger. Does giving your time to others provide more, or less, happiness reward than sending ten quid to Sports Relief? Even more interesting is the question of reward. I mean in order to get this positive feedback from giving, does your generosity have to be acknowledged or not? My own view is that it does, even if that only means that you tell yourself that you have done the right thing in making your donation. It doesn’t have to come from a third party but that feedback loop is important I think. I’ve never really understood the concept of altruism.

Having started to write this blog with some considerable doubt as to its value, I may now be closer to understanding what it is that I get from it. Yes it’s nice to have a record of our preparations and the trip itself. Yes it’s nice to explore our thoughts about why we are going on this tour of Britain. But for me, I am beginning to realise why I am enjoying the writing so much. You can call it an ego trip if you like but in defence I say it’s a form of giving in exchange for a reward. I give you my ramblings. You read them because you enjoy them, I hope. Some of you send positive feedback and I get the satisfying feeling of having provided a bit of entertainment or food for thought. Win, win.

Maybe I’m stretching credulity but it’s an interesting topic don’t you think?

Give more, get more: discuss.