When Conan the Barbarian was asked the meaning of life, he replied, “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.” It’s too bad he never met a bronze-age mountaineer: If he had, he might’ve been a little more grounded.
According to a New Zealand researcher, mountain climbers have an uncanny grasp on living that perhaps brings them closest to understanding what it all means. University of Victoria museum and heritage studies professor Lee Davidson interviewed 22 New Zealand-based climbers and spent several more hours studying them. Afterwards, she learned that mountaineers tend to have higher-than-average senses of belonging and feelings of identity, along with a general core grounding that comes from climbing.
“It’s a way to look for meaning in life, it gives people a sense of focus, makes them see what’s really of value,” Davidson, a climber herself, told Reuters.
“Many people struggle these days with a sense of belonging, but the climbers that I spoke to all had a very strong sense of identity, that to me was the most significant finding,” she said.
Davidson also claims that, contrary to popular opinion, mountaineers aren’t all adrenaline junkies driven only by their search of dangerous thrills. Instead, they thrive off of the hard work and incremental payoff afforded by the long process and focus of climbing mountains. Decisions in climbing often have real-world consequences not offered by other “leisurely” pursuits.
“Most people don’t do this for a bit of a thrill, it’s not the central attraction,” Davidson said. “Yes, you face danger, but it’s calculated and you acquire skills that enable you to navigate this danger. It’s really sensible.”
Davidson may be an award-winning researcher, but before you go solo-climb K2 in search of the meaning of life, you should know that the prize came from the Australia and New Zealand Association for Leisure Studies. I don’t know how they do things way down south, but I’m pretty sure I majored in Leisure Studies here, and I sure as hell didn’t get a degree for it.
— Ted Alvarez