Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Things vs Experiences: What Makes Us Happier?

I stumbled across this great article on happiness a month ago. Essentially it talks about how if you have the choice between buying a pool for your backyard or going to Greece for a few weeks, the trip to Greece will make you happier. It doesn't matter that the pool could last you al lifetime. Experiences almost always trump things when it comes to the pleasure they give us.

This reality has been backed up by research (check out the article “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right.”) for more details. I have been reflecting on this truth a fair amount this summer. If buying stuff doesn't really make me that happy (or at least not that happy for very long) then why am I so enamored with buying, well, stuff?

For myself I believe it is an error of the mind. I have a belief that things (especially new shiny things) will make me happy. A new car is better then an old one (or none at all). Yet whenever we get rid of the stuff in our house I find myself relaxing a little more and feeling a little more content. I don't think it's the stuff itself that is the problem, I think it's the beliefs about the stuff that hurt us.

My Son Riker always would like to buy more toys. I estimate he has about 4 or 5 times as much toys as I had when I was young. But I don't think he is any happier then I was. When we get older the toys we want just get bigger and more expensive. How many of us are still stuck in that earlier mindset - thinking that if we just buy the right stuff we'll be happy?

So how does one break the power of the idea? I think by challenging it. Doing an experiment to see if it is true. Let me know if you've done such a thing . . .

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Nicest Hike In Canada

Well, I am back from our vacation. It was an interesting one - first we went to Jobina's 15 year high school reunion at Caronport, then we headed to Calgary to see family and then Jobina I split up. Not permanently mind you, but I went with my friend Mike to go on an outdoor adventure and she went and hung out with her family. I must say my wife is absolutely wonderful to allow me to 2 days in our precious family vacation to go and do something like this away from the rest of the family. It was very fun.

Mike and I left Calgary and I didn't know where we were going - we decided he was going to surprise me. All I knew is that we'd be hiking. Where we ended up going was Waterton National Park, one of Canada's best kept secrets. The little town of Waterton nestled into the park is absolutely picturesque, just visiting the town is enough to renew a weary soul. But the best was yet to come.

We arrived late in the afternoon to Waterton and then had a mediocre supper after which we explored the town. We noticed there was a rustic looking theater in the town and went to a late night showing of "Inception" which was very good and rather mind blowing. In front of us was an older couple and amazingly one of the couple's mothers. I can only imagine how seriously confused this poor granny was at the end of that movie!

After that we "camped" in Mike's van and the next morning he surprised me by taking me down to the docks. Our hike, he explained, would start with a boat ride to trailhead. We boarded the Miss Waterton with many other hikers and went for a short 15 minute boat ride while we were briefed by a slightly serious and mostly humorous boat guy about the perils of bear avoidance, outdoor biffies, and dehydration. We would be deposited shortly before 10 and the last boat pick up was at 5. Don't miss it, he said, unless you want to spend a night in the mountains with the bears.

The Crypt Lake Trail was about 17 km round trip which doesn't sound that bad (it didn't sound that bad to me) but there is about a 700m elevation gain. That's over 2300 feet! For a prairie boy this is fairly incredible to contemplate but mercifully I didn't know these figures when we started.

This trail is considered by many to be the nicest hike in Canada and I can see why. After you get out of the treeline, every time you look up you are met with an incredible view. Here are some of the highlights:

-Waiting for the Miss Waterton ($18 for a ride there and back) to take us down the lake to the trailhead:

-About 2 km in, viewing Upper Waterton Lake from above.

-Almost there: Climbing a fixed ladder up to the rock tunnel. The tunnel is a naturally occurring tunnel that the park service has enlarged to help larger hikers get through. Most people have to take their pack off but I squeezed my way through it OK.

-Here's a good shot of Mike traversing a scree field. On our way down I basically ran down this stretch as I was so overjoyed to not be going up anymore! My knees paid for that run a few kilometers later.

Some beautiful wildflowers along the way. I enjoyed seeing many different species of flowers that we never see in Manitoba:

On some of the sketchier areas near the rock tunnel, there are fixed steel cables to hold onto so you don't fall to your death. I dared Mike to grab one and lean out and over the precipice - which of course he did immediately. Don't tell his wife!

-Here was our destination: beautiful Crypt Lake. This hidden and stunning lake has crystal blue water teaming with fish. Not too swimmable though as the water is absolutely frigid! Yes, that is snow at the base and I enjoyed making (and throwing) a snowball in the middle of summer. An interesting fact is that the far end of the lake is actually in Montana - you can cross the American border without any hassles at all up here. We stayed up for about half 45 minutes and enjoyed the view as we ate our lunch.

It took pretty much all day to go up and come down but we reached the trailhead with 5 minutes to spare before the boat arrived to pick us up. My knees were shot and my blisters had blisters but I was elated. My first real mountain hike! I decided after this experience that day hikes are good, multi-day hikes are bad. I loved moving quickly and lightly. The Crypt Lake Hike is apparently one of three major hikes in the park and I plan to return and do the other two as soon as I can (after I get in shape)!