In my book, The Descent into Happiness, I write about Nishida Kitaro, my favorite philosopher, and how he distinguishes pleasure from happiness. I write about it within the context of biking up and down mountains. To quote the book: “If Nishida distinguishes pleasure from happiness by saying that we suffer for what makes us happy, then descending the mountain pass gave pleasure. Climbing it allowed for happiness.” I was reminded of this quote on Saturday when my friend Jackie and I did The Horribly Hilly Hundreds, a bike ride that took us on a 150 kilometer journey through southwestern Wisconsin. We climbed 9,300 feet, and it made us happy.
How’s that, you may say? It had to do with embracing the hard work of riding uphill. Going downhill was fun; it was fun that we were able to descend 9,300 feet. But going up was when we were able to encourage each other, to go slow enough to look around and take in the beautiful views. But most importantly, climbing allowed us to summit–again and again. Every time we had a big climb, we had the opportunity to summit, and then descend, and then climb again. From happiness to pleasure and back to happiness, all day long.
We were especially happy at the end of the ride, to make the final two and a half mile climb up a 10% grade to the finish, the final ascent, where the beer and burgers and cookies were waiting for us. Where we could sit down and talk with others that did the ride about everything that happened. All of us, exhausted, exhilarated, and happy.