Book review: ‘The Happiness of Pursuit’ by Chris Guillebeau
August 14, 2016
There are two types of dreamers in the world, those who are content with keeping the magic and adventure of their dreams safely within their minds and hearts, and those who refuse to rest until they have grabbed their dreams with both hands and shaken out all the goodness. Author Chris Guillebeau falls firmly into the latter category, and he is such a proponent of dream-seeking that he hosts an international summit to support people's quests no matter what form they might manifest themselves.
In his recent book, "The Happiness of Pursuit," Guillebeau highlights some of the most memorable adventurers he has encountered over the years, while also sharing some anecdotes from his own notable pursuits, all of which are assembled in a quirky, self-help format, with chapter recaps and charts detailing expenses and durations of projects.
His motivation for writing the book was his own personal goal of visiting every country in the world. "It was a lifelong challenge I had pondered for years before finally accepting it as the quest I would pursue for as long as I could." As Guillebeau points out, traveling the world is a common focal point of many quests, though the variations are as numerous as the people undergoing them. Mostly, though, the quests are undertaken alone, as a way for that individual to learn something about the world, and about himself or herself in the process.
As Guillebeau pondered his own motivations for the quest that took him a decade to complete, he wanted to learn if there was a commonality in the diverse array of quest-seekers around the world. "My curiosity about questing became a quest in itself." So, as he adhered to his own quest, ticking off countries one by one, he talked with people around the world who were also following their own "quest stars."
He tackled his plan to explore the nature of quests and their inspirations in an organized fashion, determining the framework for what seemed to define a quest, at least in the minds of the people he interviewed. Universally tantamount was the need to have a clear end point, an unwavering goal to adhere to through every inevitable challenge. Quests were not meant to be easy, nor were they equated with general steps toward self-improvement.
Very often, though, a desire to change one's life for the better was the initial inspiration for a quest. For many of the people Guillebeau interviewed, the moment of commitment was a low point in life, with the quest looming up as either an elixir to counter the dreaded "discontent" that can cloud life, or it rose as a deep stirring from within a heart that yearned for redemption or salvation.
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Much of "The Happiness of Pursuit" is designed to inspire and motivate, and the many examples the author shares are a diverse array of paths to the same goal, which, in essence, is to lose oneself in the thrill of living, to escape the mind-numbing rut of daily life, to "keep the story going," always looking forward to what comes next.
The greatest myths and legends revolve around quests, heroes and heroines, both real and imagined, and stories of individuals fulfilling personal dreams and overcoming inspiring hurdles abound throughout literature. From the likes of Bilbo Baggins, Chris McCandless, and even Henry David Thoreau, a common theme pervades — a connectivity to one's mortality. Quest-seekers often sacrifice a great deal to follow a dream; jobs fall away, family relationships are tested and strained, and money is a constant concern. Regrettably, too, not all quests end well, Chris McCandless from "Into The Wild" being the perfect, tragic example.
Guillebeau's book teems with motivating words and inspiring stories, and he has counter arguments for every conceivable excuse. As Bilbo Baggins famously says, "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to." Guillebeau would concur; the first step is often the hardest, but it is also the most crucial and the most rewarding, and perhaps it is why so many quests involve a change of place, a departure from home with its comforts and constrictions. As the author says, there is great joy in the pursuit of finding and following something one loves.
Questing is a way to move closer to the paths of those storybook heroes, and as it is with life, the journey itself is the real reward; the goal is simply the carrot that keeps the momentum going. As famed poet Rainier Maria Rilke said, "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."