These last 4 days I have been out in the wilderness in Killarney Provincial Park. Wendy's work formed up a big group to do a 'bonding with the new people' camping trip and I ended up going along. I came back with soreness in my arms, sleepiness in my eyes, cuts and bruises on my hands and feeling most excellent. It makes me wonder how exactly we react to wounds, work and deprivation in general - what exactly are the parameters that make people stop cursing the inconveniences of life and simply roar with fury and push forward?
We canoed around a few lakes, not doing anything overly strenuous as several people on the trip were very new to camping and canoeing and some others not especially interested in pushing their physical limits, rather instead wanting to push their limits of alcohol and roasted sausage intake. We slept in tents on the ground instead of comfortable beds, gave ourselves sore bodies and choked on smoke from the fire and called it wonderful (and it was!) and yet those experiences would be extreme inconveniences in other settings. Certainly a big component must be a change of circumstances, as the old saying 'a change is as good as a rest' does have some real truth to it. We exchange our old problems for new ones and somehow they become less for that transformation. There must be more to it than that though, as even those used to camping find these experiences change their perceptions.
I suspect much of the rest of the difference is the perception of danger and the feeling of being closer to the edge of death. Camping in a park with our names registered at the lodge and a panic button that dials the Coast Guard isn't really any significant risk but something buried deep in our psyches really feels the difference between having a restaurant 2 minutes away and being absolutely dependent on a single food bag and a flickering flame to provide needed nourishment. We can fool ourselves with the idea that we are living closer to our roots, outwitting bears and worrying about shelter and food instead of esoteric philosophy or scientific discovery. Clearly when we are eating vacuum sealed sausages, marshmallows and Mr. Christie prepackaged oatmeal we aren't really getting any closer to a real hunter/gatherer lifestyle but we can fool ourselves for just a while and convince our brains that these minor injuries are a necessary evil to keep the danger at bay.
My particular group may well have had yet another happiness benefit though, that is the camaraderie that develops among a disparate group that is forced to work together to secure basic things. Several of the people along were very new to the group and the combination of forced time together around the campfire after dark and the challenges of accomplishing goals and making decisions as a unit without a clear leader definitely can create positive feelings within a group. Perhaps these good feelings are based somewhat around those people whose company we find ourselves in. When I am surrounded by people I like and respect certainly I will be happier, and if my companions decided they liked me they might even feel the same way.