Reflections on happiness during a pilgrimage


A few days ago, I wrote on the blog about 12 strategies to increase happiness. By chance (or not), this theme came back today during a “pilgrimage walk” organised by the Färentuna church. We were six people, of different ages, who for three hours walked in Eldgarnsö Nature Reserve and talked about what happiness really is and what makes us happy.

The beautiful scenery and the crisp autumn colours certainly heldped, but a common experience was that presence in nature for us was a strong contributing “luck factor”. But what then is happiness? We realised that happiness is not a constant intoxicating feeling, but more of a calm sense compassion with life in the moment, or as one of the participants so well expressed it “to come to a point in life where one could say that if everything was to end here and now I would still be satisfied”.

Happiness is not about money or posessions, but the ability to find and appreciate the little things in our existence, something that often becomes easier with age and more life experience. This requires presence, whether it is a presence in nature, presence in our relationships or presence with an animal.

Unfortunately, we are living in a world of consumption and performance, where the measuring stick too often is the stories other people are sharing on social media. We are drowned in pictures of parties, laughing people, beautifully styled homes and seemingly perfect relationships, without getting the counter-images of everyday stress, unwashed plates and perhaps grief, loneliness and illness. It may then seem that everyone else lives so much happier life than we do.

If happiness is perceived as something compulsary and that we “must” be happy, I never think we will get there. Happiness is not a striving but an ability to be, present and an ability to appreciate and be grateful for what we do have, here and now. It must also be OK to not feel happy, but, as suggested, “a little push in the right direction of a good friend” may not be a bad thing.

Living a life completely free from pain and sorrows is neither possible nor perhaps even desirable. Happiness is not the absence of difficult life events, but instead the ability to find the pleasures and see the beauty of things both when times are good and in the midst of one of the life crises that inevitably will affect us all.

Happy moments can also be found in the deepest darkness, and the contrasts can then make the moments of happiness even more intense. I experienced this myself, when I many years ago was working in a child cancer ward. The children there were amasing in their strength and wisdom and many of them were admirable role models in the art of fully enjoying the short moments of play and joy, in the midst of all the sickness, pain and sometimes even death.

Happiness can be linked to goals in one’s life that have a deeper meaning – a desire to achieve something important. But this goal (and the journey there) must then provide an inner and greater value beyond money, status, titles and prestige. A vain belief that these external symbols will give happiness will only lead to disappointment.

For my own part, it was a great relief when I discovered some years ago that I had reached as far as I wanted in my career and could thus let go of the striving to move upward. I have meaningful work where I can make a positive change to others and rewarding interests outside work (including this blog). I feel a deeply grateful for this as well as a gratitude for my relationships, for my ability to enjoy nature and an inner sense to be connected to something bigger than myself.

All of this has given me an inner calm, which is happiness to me. I still need to become better at prioritising what’s important (at work and privately) and be more comfortable in saying no without having a bad conscience, but overall there is still a good balance.

Finally, a little glimpse of another happiness in the present moment during the walk. We had a magical moment when we fed some cows with fallen apples. Their mooings while eating the apples was a clear expression of happiness!


Author: Karl Ekdahl

International public health leader and creativity blogger.

3 thoughts on “Reflections on happiness during a pilgrimage”

  1. You’re right, Karl. Happiness is found in the seemingly ‘small’ moments in life that gives us great joy, contentment, peace, connection. They are the hidden jewels. The more obvious, greater moments of happiness, such as the birth of a child, bring us a big boost of happiness. Life happens and those happinesses sometimes diminish, fade, turn sour. May we all be open to finding the hidden jewels in our life to sustain, nurture, support and help us grow.

    Liked by 1 person

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