Into The Wild - Kelsey Massoglia        

Into The Wild Essay

Kelsey Massoglia
5/6/2016
Writing 3020

The Journey to Find True Happiness

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony,” as stated by Mahatma Gandhi. What exactly is happiness? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word happiness is defined as “A state of well-being or contentment” or “A pleasurable or satisfying experience”. Most people don’t need a formal definition of happiness; we know what happiness is when we feel it. Generally people use the word “happiness” in place of various other positive adjectives including joy and contentment. Happiness is the ultimate purpose of life, despite what culture or society one belongs in, they all have the same desire; simply to be happy. Happiness is something that is hard to measure and hard to define singularly, without comparing it to something else. Most can attest to hearing the phrase, “I just want to be happy” or “I just want you to be happy” countless times throughout their life. But, have you ever stepped back and really thought what exactly does happiness mean to you?
A simple way of explaining a complicated topic is that happiness is achieved when your needs are fulfilled. However, these needs can vary from person to person, this is what makes happiness difficult to define. Everyone has his or her own personal idea of what needs must be fulfilled in order to feel content with oneself. In order to feel happy, most people need to have a healthy wellbeing, a positive mind body relationship. The external environment also plays a large role in someone’s happiness, whether they are safe, have food available and have personal freedom. Having healthy relationships with others is also vital for most people’s happiness, relationships with family and peers is the foundation of what it means to be human. These are a few examples of the basic needs that nearly all humans feel the necessity to fulfill. Yet, not everyone has the same needs, which makes the concept of happiness subjective to an individual’s personal desires. For one person, happiness could be attained by being surrounded by friends in a bustling shopping mall, where for another person, they may feel that being in that particular situation may in fact actually cause them unhappiness and anxiety. Happiness is a difficult concept to measure and compare amongst individuals.
Before we dive into what certain people actively set out to do in order to feel happiness, it is important to understand how our brains and bodies work in order to experience these emotions, simply the neurochemicals of happiness. All living species main goal is to feel happiness and avoid pain, our brain is a complicated structure that is responsible for all of the emotions we experience. There are numerous different neurotransmitters that play a vital role in producing all the emotions one feels, but there are a few main molecules that are released that can be directly related to experiencing the feeling of happiness (The Neurochemicals of Happiness). One of the most commonly known neurotransmitters is Endocannabinoids, or known as the “Bliss Molecule” (The Neurochemicals of Happiness). It is a self produced cannabis, through various research it has been discovered that this specific neurotransmitter has been seen frequently after exercise, commonly known as the “runner’s high” (The Neurochemicals of Happiness). The next commonly discussed neurotransmitter is Dopamine, or known as the “Reward Molecule”, when you complete a goal, the sense of accomplishment that one feels is due to this neurotransmitter (The Neurochemicals of Happiness). Yet another important molecule that the brain produces is Oxytocin or the “Bonding Molecule,” and “this molecule is directly liked to human bonding and increasing trust and loyalty” (The Neurochemicals of Happiness). One of the final molecules that play a sustainable role in happiness is Endorphin, or known as the “Pain Killing Molecule” (The Neurochemicals of Happiness). These molecules are produced by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus during experiences of joy, triggering a positive feeling, similar to that or morphine, thus the name translates into “self-produced morphine”. (The Neurochemicals of Happiness). When one experiences something that they enjoy doing, for example exercising, a combination of these molecules are produced, thus leaving he or she with the feeling commonly refereed to as happiness.
So what makes humans so fascinated with the idea of happiness? Is it because it is the universal goal that every living being wishes to fulfill? As this is the ultimate widespread goal for each person, people use this to their advantage in the use of literature, media and advertisements. Advertisements surround us daily, all with the same underline meaning, if you buy this product thus you will in turn be happy, just as the smiling models seen wearing or holding the product are. Whether this product is a certain food, alcohol, beauty product or clothing item, the advertisers goal is to portray to the consumer that if this product is purchased, happiness will soon follow. Likewise, nearly every film produced or book written has some elements of the story’s protagonist going on a journey with the end goal of fulfilling a need that will in turn present them with a feeling of happiness. Experiencing these journey’s alongside the protagonist either through viewing a film or reading a novel gives the viewer a sense of hope, the idea that they too will reach their ultimate goal of happiness in their own personal life.
In many novels, the protagonist is on a personal journey of self-discovery, finding what fulfills their personal desires and needs in order to be content. In the particular novel, Into the Wild, the book follows the adventurous life of a young man named Chris McCandless who went on a unique expedition in order to find inner peace and the meaning of happiness. The novel is based on a true story and was written by Jon Krakauer, a man whom was fascinated by McCandless’s life. Krakauer took researching and examining how McCandless ended up where he did into his own hands. A brief background into McCandless’ story is that he was born on February 12th, 1968 in El Segundo, California to a successful and wealthy couple, Walt McCandless and Wilhelmina Johnson, along with his sister, Carine. While growing up, Chris was a thriving student, he always recognized as a bright adolescent, although at times was somewhat rebellious and strong willed. Chris knew that he never wanted to live an ordinary life, he felt that going to school and getting an ordinary job would never fulfill his needs. Chris successfully graduated from high school and over the summer before going off to college, he went on an adventure that forever changed his life.
Chris went on a solo adventure exploring the country by car, exploring the word was one of his greatest loves, something that he needed in his life to be happy. After returning from one of his first true journeys, Chris attended Emory University, still maintaining excellent grades and even graduating with honors. Shortly prior to graduating from University, in preparation for embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, Chris donated the remaining wealth of his education fund to Oxfam, an organization fighting against the effects of poverty, especially hunger. Chris felt the need to make a difference in the world. Chris never planned on getting a “respectable” or “run of the mill” job and settling down as his parents had done. Chris would never be content living a traditional life.
McCandless quietly left the comforts of home to embark on a journey of self-exploration, going by the alias of “Alexander Supertramp, exploring several states by car, foot and hitchhiking. Chris’s goal was to explore with the least amount of materialistic possession as well as spending a minimum amount of money possible. After about two years of traveling throughout California, Mexico, Arizona, and South Dakota, these destinations never fulfilled Chris’s need for finding his inner peace. As many who had come into contact with Chris throughout his travels, he made clear that his ultimate final destination was to live off the land in the Alaskan wilderness. Unfortunately, about four months after he set foot into the wilderness with a limited supply of provisions, Chris’s journey took a turn for the worse. Chris was found deceased due to starvation by passing by hunters in an abandoned bus along the Stampede Trail. Many people who have read about Chris’s adventure claim that he was selfish for leaving his family and foolish for going into the Alaskan wilderness so ill prepared. Although, some feel quite differently about Chris, some refer to Chris McCandless as a modern day Thoreau and an inspiration to find one’s own personal inner happiness.
ImageYet, this specific trip was a dignified and necessary change that Chris needed to do for himself. Throughout Chris’s short-lived life, he never felt completely comfortable in society, he always felt somewhat out of place, generally keeping to himself and staying secluded from others. Travel was his escape; travel was his time to be one with nature and one with himself. Through his journey, Chris received what he looking for; he learned what his true happiness is. By the end of his journey, Chris discovered “happiness is only real when shared” (199). This realization was a monumental moment for Chris as for the majority of the twenty-four years of life that he lived; he secluded himself from family and peers. He made attempts to make it back to civilization, but sadly was too weak to hike out of the Alaskan wilderness; Chris discovered that living in complete isolation was not a way he wanted to continue to live his life. Even though Chris passed away through supposed starvation, which by any means is not a pleasant way to pass, he did not die feeling sorry for himself, nor did he want pity from anyone else. Chris passed with a sense of inner peace. When Chris realized that his life was nearing the end, he wrote a note stating his last words, for those who found him and for his family to read. That note stated, “I have had a happy life and thank the lord. Goodbye and may all God bless all!”

Chris McCandless ultimately discovered what true happiness, which was his ultimate goal of his adventure into the Alaskan wilderness.
As a young adult myself, just as Chris was when he set off on his journey, I can relate to feeling lost in the world that we live in. This time of a young adult’s life is a time of feeling “in between”, not quite a child anymore, yet at the same time, not viewing oneself as quite an adult yet. Within the past few decades, a new term “emerging adulthood” has been coined and researched by Jeffery Arnett, a Professor of Psychology at Clark University. This term is used to describe the period of life within the ages of 18 to 29 years old (Arnett). Psychologists now determine there are nine stages of development one goes through, Emerging Adulthood was newly added to the list, it is now between the stage of Adolescence and the stage of Early Adulthood (Arnett). Arnett summarizes the feelings one goes through as an Emerging Adult as, “To be a young American today is to experience both excitement and uncertainty, wide-open possibility and confusion, new freedoms and new fears” (Arnett). Through Arnett’s years of research there are five main features that classify someone as an Emerging Adult, each young adult having a different experience, possibly relating to a few of the characteristics or relating to all five (Arnett). These five distinct features include; it is the age of identity explorations, it is the age of instability, it is the most self-focused age of life, it is the age feeling in-between, and lastly it is the age of possibilities (Arnett). Emerging Adulthood is a time for self-exploration, a time in your life where it is acceptable to be selfish, a time to discover one’s inner-happiness and goals. According to Arnett’s criteria that determine whether or not someone is exploring the phase of their life termed as Emerging Adulthood, it is clear that Chris McCandless was certainly within the developmental phase of Emerging Adulthood. The first criteria, identity exploration, this feature is one that relates to Chris the most; the main purpose of this risky journey was to discover who he really was. The second criteria, instability, arguably Chris was one of the most instable people I have ever come across, moving from state to state, job to job, unsure of where his next destination would be, yet it was all part of a greater plan. The third criteria, self-focused, some argue that he was selfish, but what better time in life to follow your dreams when you are young, without the responsibilities of providing for a family and holding down a stable income. The fourth criteria, feeling in-between, I believe Chris felt this way, he graduated from college so technically was an adult in the sense that he had the capability to get a job and support himself, but he was still unsure what he really wanted to pursue in life. The fifth and final criteria, endless possibilities, Chris had his whole life ahead of him, he was exploring what he wanted to make of his life in order to attain true happiness. Chris wasn’t selfish, he was simply an Emerging Adult, exploring the possibilities around him, finding his inner-self one journey at a time.

As an emerging adult myself, just recently turning 21, feeling unsure of my purpose, my passion and what I will need to accomplish to ultimately feel happy is something that I can relate to Chris. Although, these tasks of discovering my purpose and true happiness seem a bit daunting, it is just another part of becoming an adult. As many young other adults could attest to, travel is an important time of self-discovery, it gives you a chance to discover your independence, self-reliance, and it is a time to reflect back on your past as well as plan for your future. Through Chris’s travel, he discovered that in fact in order for him to be happy, he no longer wanted to live a life of solitude. Without Chris’s journey of a lifetime, he may have never found what true happiness personally entails for him. Travel for me has played a fairly substantially role in deciding what I want to come of my life. Over the last few years, I have traveled to various foreign countries including Costa Rica, Mexico and islands in the Caribbean. I have had a chance to witness some of the poverty the citizens there are faced with, including the poor living environments and subpar medical care. These trips have truly inspired me, I felt the need that in order to be happy, I want to give back to others and make a difference in the world. I am currently going to school with the goal to become a Nurse Practitioner, with the intent of practicing medicine abroad. My dream is now to become a traveling nurse, helping those who do not have access to the best medical care. Without travel, I am not sure if both myself and Chris would have found our path to true happiness.
Yet, it is no surprise that in order to find inner happiness, Chris turned to nature, being one with nature has a tranquil effect on many. Escaping from your everyday hectic reality is a common way of finding inner peace. Yet, not to the extremes as Chris did by entering the Alaskan wilderness, but temporarily avoiding the copious amounts of technology that surrounds the average young adult. Personally, when I am in nature undisturbed, I find my inner peace, as many do as well. In today’s age of technology, humans still strive to be one with nature; research has deemed nature as one of the best medicines, improving health, happiness and well-being. (Does Nature Make Us Happy?). In the 18th century, Samuel Johnson, who was a writer, stated that, “Deviation from nature is deviation from happiness” (Does Nature Make Us Happy?). It does not come as a surprise, that humans are natural creatures, evolving from living their lives solely outside. In the 21st century, we now spend a majority of our lives spent inside, disconnected from the nature that lies just amongst the office building or classroom we spend our days in. John Zelenski and Elizabeth Nisbet, both distinguished psychologists, performed variety of studies that examine the question, “Is the link between nature and happiness independent from the other things that make us feel emotionally connected to life?” (Does Nature Make Us Happy?). Using a Likert scale, a psychometric scale used in research that involves questionnaires, participants were asked to rate their personal level of agreement and disagreement when presented with statements regarding their relationships to nature (Does Nature Make Us Happy?). A few examples of the statements the participants were asked included “I take notice of wildlife whenever I am” and “My relationship to nature is an important part of who I am” (Does Nature Make Us Happy?). Zelenski and Nisbet coined the term of a person’s emotional to nature as, “Nature Relatedness” (Does Nature Make Us Happy?). Various other scales were also put into place in order to determine the participant’s level of happiness (Psychology Today). The results of the study may not be surprising to those who enjoy spending time in nature, but it was concluded that the connection between nature and happiness was highly correlated (Does Nature Make Us Happy?). Spending time in nature and appreciating nature benefits one’s well- being and overall levels of happiness.
Life is a journey, a journey to find ones inner-peace and true happiness. One goes about this journey in a variety of ways. What gives us the feeling on happiness varies from person to person, but it the ultimate shared goal of all living creatures. The brain releases the same neurotransmitters amongst all human beings, but what triggers the release of these specific chemicals differs amongst individuals. In order for Chris McCandless to find inner peace and happiness, he set off on a journey living off the land isolated in Alaska. He discovered from his experience, that in order for him to be truly happy he wants to share his life with the company of others. Yet, the majority of people do not go to those extremes in their voyage for happiness as Chris did, although self discovery is an important part of life and how one goes about that journey is up to them. While happiness is a difficult concept to measure and define, it is vital to have happiness in one’s life. So, get out, explore, and discover oneself and what actions are necessary in order to find your true happiness.

Works Cited

"The Neurochemicals of Happiness." Psychology Today. Web. 30 Apr. 2016.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201211/the-neurochemicals-happiness

Arnett, Jeffrey Jensen. "A Longer Road to Adulthood." Emerging Adulthood (2006): 3-26. Web.

"Does Nature Make Us Happy?" Psychology Today. Web. 01 May 2016.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-moment-youth/201403/does-nature-make-us-happy


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