There is just the moment – expectations will get you nowhere. Trust. The journey will continue – the ride will come – after minutes or maybe even hours. But stay with that moment, that’s where the real journey is happening, the present. And when the ride appears as if from nowhere get on board, don’t look back, and let a whole new world open up before you.
The not so strange stranger has stopped to help – amazed – grateful – connected. The most beautiful gift has been given and accepted.A rare thing?
These days a hitchhiker at the side of the road is a rare thing. Yet I’ve often met other hitchhikers at random service stations or the middle of literally nowhere. Sometimes we’ve even taken rides together. The art of hitchhiking is still alive and it thrives – at least within me and the people I ride with.
But I’m told a hitchhiker used to be a much more familiar sight. Many of the rides I get are from those who remember doing it fondly in the past – an ex-hitchhiker always understands and will relish an opportunity to give back after all those rides years ago. But just as often someone who has never entered the world of a hitchhiker will stop and help. People from all sorts of background, with all sorts of stories, and with all manner of wisdom have entered my life this way. I’ve ridden in open top sports cars, delivery vans, minibuses, coaches, with people not long out of prison, fasting for Ramadan, grandmothers, couples, of different ethnicities, and all shapes and sizes. All of the rides are special and unique, yet all the people that share their ride with me are similar in one of the most important things a human can have – an openhearted and compassionate approach towards another. I think perhaps I’ve re-found my faith in humanity through hitchhiking.
But other than re-finding faith in humanity – which I guess is a pretty big deal – why would someone “choose” to travel this way one day (and I do choose as it is not a necessity)? That is not an easy question to answer. My first hitchhike experience was three years ago – yes only three years ago! It’s easy to think that perhaps I must have been doing this all my life and that I had learnt to courageously stand at the side of the road at an early age, or perhaps as a student when I was strapped for cash. Not at all! I used to always take trains and buses and, when I cared less about sustainability, even airplanes, caring more about where I was going, and to get there quickly to do the thing that I really felt like I needed to do. It was, well, convenient…
How I began…
My first hitchhike happened when two beautiful souls – my brother and his girl-friend – came to visit me whilst I was living in Manchester. We wanted to get to Wales to visit some friends and my spiritually rich but materially poor brother insisted we hitch. He figured it would at least save me having to pay for us all. And we did — all three of us. I was nervous, I was skeptical – as cars whizzed by at the side of the road I felt the chances of someone stopping to give three hitchhikers a ride was low. I just kept thinking about the train – the convenience. It took several hours of waiting around just to get out of Manchester yet in the process we even met another hitchhiker at a petrol station.
It was on that first ride I began to buzz, I began to “get it”. Hitchhiking is not about saving money, or taking advantage of others – it is about giving a gift to a fellow human being – both ways. I’ve never driven myself but I hear it can be a lonely and disconnecting experience. When I’m in someone’s car I’m always giving – listening to someone, telling my own story, sharing because without sharing, without having the capacity to give, human beings are dead. Through my adventures over the years I’ve learnt that one of the greatest gifts that can be given is to allow others to give.
…And why I continue
But since that fateful first journey why do I do still do this? Aside from the love of connections and my sense of adventure there is something that I personally value above everything – authenticity – being true to my core beliefs and values whenever I can. It’s not always convenient or easy to do so but being authentic feeds in to a greater sense of well-being. This makes it doubly important for a human who spends much of their waking life thinking, reading, and researching about happiness and well-being to live a life that enhances well-being.One of my big hitching experiences last year was all the way to a conference in Leipzig, Germany, where I was presenting some of our latest research in income reductions and well-being. The conference was on “degrowth” – a movement that calls for an equitable down-scaling of consumption and production so as to achieve greater well-being and sustainability. I sincerely believe this movement may have some of the answers that our societies so desperately need – how could I not hitchhike there? I not only had a wonderful journey but it was during that journey that I fully appreciated that not only do I have a fascinating story to tell but that in the telling it helps if I’m credible. It was only last week when I attended a conference on ecological economics in Leeds and sat through talks from academics that had flown in from every corner of the earth to give talks about the need to move to a low carbon economy. I find it hard to engage with that as I’m sure many people do. If we want a better planet then it will be you and I who will have to make it so. If we don’t and/or can’t then it quite simply it won’t.
What we really need to get on the road to happy
These days we’re more financially rich than we’ve ever been in the past – more resources at our finger tips (in the short-term at least), and we can afford to drive cars up and down the country, all over the world, with only one person sitting inside. Wow! In many ways that is an incredible feat for the human project. But does being financially independent make us happier? We will certainly not find happiness through having more things – it has clear it has not worked so far – but the belief that it will can get in the way of the things that really matter – trust, connection, relationships, sharing – these are things I explore on the road, and with them I believe I might almost make my way to happy.
And so I offer a whole bunch of love to anyone who has ever stopped to listen and be heard. Keep doing it and to those who have not, one day perhaps you might try it. Where you going? I’m going to happy. Get in and buckle up as I am going there too.