Alaska,  Confessions of a travel blogger

“Happiness only real when shared?”


“Happiness only real when shared”

Those are the famous words that Chris McCandles wrote down in his copy of Doctor Zhivago, next to a passage about unshared happiness. I doubt that many people had ever heard of Chris McCandles before the movie Into the Wild came out, or at least, where I’m from that is definitely the case.
In all honesty, I had never heard of him until my first trip to Alaska, back in the early summer of 2007. I was assistant guiding an outdoor trip then and the tourguide thought it would be fun to drive our truck up on the Stampede Road, eventually becoming the trail. After getting stuck in the mud and digging ourselves out with our bare hands, I got obsessed by the story and back home the first thing I did was order a copy of the book. Less than a year later, the movie came out. Before the end of the movie, I cried my eyes out. I still do, each time I see it… I believe many others suffer the same.


Probably the most photographed roadsign in Alaska

It’s not even a week since I came home from Alaska and I feel miserable. Not just because of the jetlag but because I miss Alaska. I’m not sure if there is a way to describe a feeling that is greater than missing, but really people, my heart is in pain. I knew it would be like this because it’s always like this when I return home from Alaska. The first time it lasted a week, the last time (before this trip) was back in 2011 and it lasted nearly a month. A MONTH! For a whole month, I felt restless, sad and disappointed in life. Restless because of the crowded streets and lack of wilderness back home, sad because I left my heart right there and disappointed because of Dutch society. Society where everything has to be perfect. Where judgements are based on appearances and where enough never seems to be enough.

Right now, I’m feeling the same. Only worse this time, as this was one of the most intense trips I’ve ever been on. Not only the second longest but also the one where I spent quite some time by myself. Leaving me with lots of opportunities to muse on all that I had seen and experienced.


Solo hiking on Hatcher Pass


Is happiness only real when shared?

Back to the phrase “Happiness only real when shared”. Four years ago I didn’t have a smartphone so I didn’t share my pictures and experiences, at least not right away. This time I have a local simcard so I could make phonecalls without facing an extremely high phonebill upon return back home. To my surprise, the 4G network is awesome in Alaska and I had internet almost everywhere. So I shared my happiness with you. It kind of comes with the job when you are a blogger but even as I made this trip as a non-blogger, I shared my shit. Mostly on my personal Facebook page but some of it on my public channels. My friends started to send me messages. That I looked happy, being back in Alaska, and that they thought I’m a badass for ice-climbing with my bruised ankle.

Was it happiness?

All of this made me think … and it made me happy, or at least, that’s what it felt like. Was it happiness though? Would I have felt differently if I didn’t share those pictures? To tell you the truth, I don’t know. I makes me think about why we share all those happy moments. Would you still enjoy the same amount of happiness when you don’t share it with anyone? If you just keep it to yourself and, if that’s the case, the person you are with? A couple of years ago, I decided to become “a blogger” and share my life with everyone. Or at least, some of it. It seems like the more followers you get, the more you share. One year ago I could easily leave social media for a week or longer. That’s different nowadays, or at least that’s what it feels like. Sometimes it makes me tired and I want to run away from it all as fast as I can, this whole thing called sharing happiness. Because basically, that’s what I do. I don’t like to share my sad moments, because that’s not what people want to hear. Sharing happiness is what I do…

For those of you who shared your support by liking or commenting on any of the pictures I posted during my Alaska trip – thank you! Really, from the bottom of my heart, it’s much appreciated! In this case, sharing my happiness made me a happy person, but not necessarily happier.

Back again to the phrase “Happiness only real when shared” because I’m pretty sure that Chris McCandles didn’t mean sharing happiness on social media when he wrote that down. On some of my happiest moments in Alaska, I was all by myself. For example when I sat down and watched the sun set over the Talkeetna Mountains at the Caribou Lodge or when I saw a moose at the Knik River Road.
In case you didn’t see this picture on any of my social media channels, I was driving back “home” to Wasilla, when all of a sudden I noticed a moose standing in a pond next to the road. I pulled over, stopped the car, opened the window and just sat there, observing him, for at least 15 minutes, while he was searching for food in the water. He looked back at me, for just a second or two, not even bothered by the fact that I was ther, less than 10 meters away. This was one of the most beautiful moments of my trip, just me and the moose. This moment I shared. But there are a ton of moments I didn’t share. Such as sitting on a glacier, soaking up the sunshine while my body was freezing due to the wind blowing down on me from the Stairway Icefall. Or the moment when I took a roadtrip down on the Kenai Peninsula and the sun started peeking through a thick pack of clouds, lightning up the mountains in the distance. Right at that time Spotify was playing “Guaranteed” by Eddie Vedder, from the Into the Wild soundtrack. It’s of the most memorable moments of my trip.

Looking at the mile high Stairway Icefall on Root Glacier

Does it mean that the moments I wasn’t alone I wasn’t happy?  Or that the moments I enjoyed most, were when I was alone? Definitely not! Iceclimbing on Root Glacier was one of the highlights of the trip – and so were the moments I spent with some Alaskan friends I made over the years. Seeing the first black bear of the trip was a another definite highlight and yet I was surrounded by 11 others at that moment, all trying to take the same picture from behind the windows of the van we were in.

However it means that I don’t agree with what Chris McCandles wrote down, regardless whether it was a question or an observation. And what possibly many people agree with. Happiness is not only real when shared. It’s just different…
PS For those who are wondering about the bus … it’s not the real one, the one in the picture is the one that was used for the movie and is located at the 49th State Brewery near Healy.
How do you feel about sharing your happiness? Whether online or in real life? I’m curious to hear your opinions!


  • Marieke

    Dit artikel vraagt gewoon om een reactie. Geluk alleen echt als je het deelt? Nee, ik herken het absoluut, ergens alleen zijn en je enorm gelukkig voelen maarrrr wat dacht je hiervan? “Geluk verdubbelt zich als je het deelt.” Mooi toch?

  • Tikva

    Dit blog spreekt me echt aan, mooi geschreven het zet me aan het denken. Ik herken mijzelf niet in de quote veel van de grootste geluksmomenten zijn juist als ik alleen ben. Als je echt alleen maar bezig bent met beleven en niet met wat andere mensen ervan vinden of die het wel leuk hebben en andere van dat soort gedachten.

    Na het lezen van je verhaal over bloggen herinner me een moment toen ik alleen met mijn 6 maanden oude dochter op de buik aan het hiken was in Ijsland (Marcel deed op dat moment een gletsjer wandeling). Ik kwam bij de waterval aan helemaal kapot en ik ontplofte bijna van geluk. Niet alleen omdat het zo mooi was maar ook omdat ik daar toch maar even liep als net nieuwe mama. Ik ben blij dat ik toen nog niet over na hoefde te denken om gelijk te instagrammen, snapchatten, facebooken en ga zo maar door. Soms is geen bereik hebben ook een cadeautje.

    • anto

      Thanks Tikva – helemaal met je eens. Soms is beleven gewoon heel fijn zonder contact dan ook met wie te hebben omdat je het toch niet kunt uitleggen aan anderen. Of als je met anderen bent die hun geluk/gevoel niet zo kunnen uiten, is het ook heel lastig. Wellicht komt het ook dat ik het thuis altijd alsnog kan delen, maar dat heeft niet iedereen. Als je altijd maar geluk alleen beleefd, is het wellicht ook niet leuk. Maar blij dat jij in ieder geval ook van je geluk in je eentje kan genieten!!

  • Laura @ Grassroots Nomad

    Great post!
    I’m primarily a solo-traveller and generally I love it. You have so much freedom when you are on your own and meet so many more people than you would otherwise. This means you have incredibly unique experiences, visiting the local bar of your new friend, their favourite restaurant or cafe. But sometimes I see something spectacular and wish I could share it with someone – lions on safari, hanging over the edge of Victoria Falls – these things would have been even better if someone I cared about was there to share it with me.

    • anto

      Thanks Laura. I can totally understand what you say – if you travel by yourself most of the time it would be great to have someone to share it with. I’m just not used to traveling entirely alone, there’s always someone with me, my husband, friends, family, colleagues … being entirely alone actually felt so right during this trip, but traveling alone most of the time would be another thing …

  • Mélyssa

    That’s an interesting post, and an interesting question – especially in this era when some people seem to live their lives only through the lenses of social media. Personally, I think that, although some moments sure are better when shared, happiness is a deeply personal thing, and you can definitely feel it when no one is witnessing it, and it becomes your own little cherished memory. 🙂

    • anto

      Thanks dear – I know what you mean about social media (but am still sad sometimes you’r note on FB 😉 ). I agree that happiness is a deep personal thing and that it would be kind of awkward not to be able to achieve that happiness unless you are experiencing it with someone. Eventually we will all end up alone in this world so you are totally dependant on your own self and happiness …

  • Erica

    Interesting words you shared. It’s just like how I feel about connecting. The more I disconnect (social media most especially), the more connected I feel. Happiness on other hand, I think it just shows how comfortable you are with yourself that you can find complete joy without the company of anyone. That’s always a good thing.

    • anto

      Whenever in nature, I prefer to disconnect and generally I only connect when back “home” or so … in November I’m going to Nepal for 3 weeks without a laptop and will mostly be in the mountains. I can’t wait to totally disconnect and embrace nature. It’s going to be a good thing I hope.

  • Saskia

    Wow Anto! Amazing post!! I think I know that feeling too… that one that is greater than missing…. It’s great on one hand because you have experienced such an awesome time, but it sucks because you just don’t want to let that go. Allthough it stays in your heart forever. Travelling into nature makes me ‘crazy’ like that over and over… Especially Alaska!

    • anto

      Thanks Sas – I know you know how I feel … let’s hope the pain goes away, but we already discussed that in the kitchen today haha … next time come along to Alaskas, I’m sure you’d love to see everyone again!

  • Ron | Active Planet Travels

    Oh I definitley know the feeling of leaving your heart behind in a destination. My most recent trip to Naples, I did just that. The beautiful beaches are a big contrast to Denver’s metropolis. Perhaps you should consider moving there for 6 months or so? You’d definitely get more of an opportunity to explore the wilderness and maybe even get the chance to see the real bus Chris stayed in. 🙂

    • anto

      Ahhh I thought Naples Italy but then found out you mean Naples Florida – I couldn’t understand the Italy one because it’s not a nice place at all. I love Denver, btw. Am already considering moving, going through the options, who knows 😉

  • Meg Jerrard

    Thanks for such an amazing reflection – I completely agree with you; I don’t know is happiness is better when shared, I think it’s just different. And for different people it’s how they source they’re happiness, while others are much more comfortable just being happy in a moment. And there are some moments you don’t need to share, so I think it’s about a healthy balance.

    You’re not the only one who cries when watching this movie – I bawl my eyes out just as much as I do when watching the Notebook 😀 And it’s awesome to know that the bus from the film is accessible – I saw this photo and totally thought you had made that crazy hike to find the original bus!!

    Sorry to hear that you’re feeling down since having returned home – we just returned from Alaska ourselves and I can absolutely understand how easy it is to fall in love with life there. Perhaps you could consider a move :D!

    • anto

      Thanks Meg! I actually just read there’s going to be a movie about The Notebook – which also made me cry btw. Am looking forward to your Alaska stories!!

  • Toccara

    I think sometimes the absolute best experiences we have while traveling are hard to put into words, or maybe the happiness we feel isn’t an experience that others will “get”. I definitely want to share many of my happy times when I travel to inspire others to do whatever it is that makes them happy, but I also believe there are so happy moments that are ok just staying with you.
    PS- I love your Alaska pics… you are my adventure hero, because I wouldn’t have the courage to do half of what you do during your travels. But, case in point, everyone experiences happiness differently, though I LOVE seeing what makes you happy, so share away! Makes me smile!

    • anto

      Aww – thanks for calling me your adventure here, such a great compliment. I’ll definitely keep on sharing. Hope to see you in October in Amsterdam or wherever in Holland xx

  • Jenna

    Very interesting point to consider–never really thought about it that way! Sounds like you had an amazing time in Alaska! I’d love to head there soon!!

  • kami

    few places bring the same emotions to me as Alaska does to you so I can understand these feelings very well!
    As I was reading your piece I was just thinking that those happinesses are just different and cannot really be compared yet both are real! And then you wrote about it at the end. so yes, I agree with you 🙂

  • Wilco

    Nice post…..not many people take the time to reflect on what they have done and how it make thems feel and how it might affect others. My 2 cents on this.

    First i’dl like to focus on your use of Chris’s note “Happiness only real when shared”. I agree with you that i have to disagree on the note itself (without the context). However Chris wrote it down as an added note when he underlined the passage “and so it turned out only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness” when he was reading Dr. Zhivago. I don’t think he was talking about the intense (but relatively short-lived) moments of euphoria or elation, excitement and joy you are discribing in your post. Those are real and are added to your own unique collection of valuable experiences whether you share them or not.

    In my view he is thinking about the bigger picture. He realises at this part of the journey that we as human beings are social creatures and enjoy sharing our stories and experiences. That these moments are even “more” meaningful when shared with others (=with likeminded people). However not everyone is able to do so . Chris for one distanced himself from everyone and had no chance to follow through on this lingering desire deep within him. Besides that a certain amount of intimacy (not physical but personal) is required to share true happiness…………Chris at that point realised that and the added note “Happiness is only real when shared” is therefore a complete reversal of his previous thought, “You’re wrong if you think the joy of life comes from human relationships.” It was only when he was faced with death that he made the decision to forgive his parents, throw away his made up name, and take back his real name. There in that “magic bus,” Chris learned to forgive.

    Second my thoughts on the pursuit of happiness. This is a tricky situation because happiness isn’t just one state of being; it’s a mentality. It’s the ability to take what life has given you and to personalize it in a way that benefits you. If you work at happiness, maybe (…just maybe), you will find something that satisfies you temporarily. Honestly, happiness is simply a by-product of living a loving, meaningful life.

    There is no guide, no rules, no manual that will teach you how to live a “happy” life. There is advice, however, that can teach you how to approach certain situations to gain the best result.

    “Happiness is not determined by what’s happening around you, but rather what’s happening inside you. Most people depend on others to gain happiness, but the truth is, it always comes from within.” – Anonymous

    True happiness comes from surrounding yourself with people whom you love and love you in return. One of the biggest challenges in life is learning to accept people for who they truly are. Once you realize that your expectations cannot change people, the better off you will be.

    “I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.” – Martha Washington

    Into the Wild made me long for community, to share my life with people and get to know them. Every day, I need to strive to be what I was destined for. I will try to listen to people who need to share their hurts, wishes, excitements, or any other thing. I will look for ways to help those around me so we can SHARE the experience and be “richer” as a whole.That for me is true happiness!!!

    • anto

      Ahhh Wilco, thanks for taking the time to reply – but Martijn already passed that onto you during dinner if I’m right. We’ll discuss this when going to Foo Fighters, I’m sure it makes a great conversation on the way over. Something we can SHARE as friends soon!

  • Christa

    I kinda agree with the quote which is the main reason why I’ve never done solo travel. It’s hard to reminisce about awesome memories by yourself! Though I’ll admit that going with my family sometimes makes my vacations more exhausting 🙂

  • Stacey Valle

    Interesting reflection!

    I understand how you feel about feeling sad after leaving Alaska! Although I haven’t been to Alaska, I still can relate to feeling sad when leaving South Korea or New York City, where I left pieces of my heart behind.

    As of happiness, like other people who left comment, happiness comes within you. To be honest, I haven’t done solo traveling yet but don’t mind to do that one day. I have been traveling with my friend, and I like sharing this happiness with her, including with others and social media. So, I know where you’re coming from 🙂

    By the way, I haven’t watched that film nor read the book! Thanks for reminding me 😉

    • anto

      Thanks Stacey! I haven’t done much solo traveling either but I’m happy that I was able to feel happy – I don’t want to become one of those persons depending on other. And yes, totally read the book and see the movie, in that order if possible 😉

  • Alexis

    Just found your blog and I will be following! Your photos are amazing and I am a fellow Alaska-lover:) I was born there and lived there as a child and it never left me. I always had dreams about going back, and when I was 21, I just picked up everything and bought a one way ticket up there. I don’t live in AK anymore, but I go back often…it is one of those places that just grabs you and never lets you go <3 Happy travels!

  • Tim Kroeger

    Very interesting post. I agree with you that happiness is not only real when shared. It is indeed only different and depends on the situation and many other things. I mostly travel by my own, meet lots of people on the road and often experience amazing things by myself. Sometimes I feel I need to experience something alone, sometimes I wished I was with someone… and often I have experiences things that would not have been as amazing when I would have been alone. So in my opinion you cannot generalize it.

  • Conor

    Brilliant thoughts and really great comparisons Chris McCandles. I think a lot of travellers believe they are similar to Chris but in reality we each have our own destiny – and our own ways of sharing our experiences, whether that is through speech, art or of course, social media.
    Of course many of us, like myself, enjoy keeping some moments to ourselves and randomly thinking back to them every now and again!

  • Dan Hagen

    Hey, good insights. Like you, my love for Alaska can never be satiated. I’ve been twice and am thinking of going for two months next summer to make time for all my backpacking ideas.

  • Patty

    I think he meant a lifetime of happiness, and I think he used the word “real” to mean worthy, affecting others positively. That was the entire reason he went into the wild in the first place, and I’m thinking it was his great treatise on life after exploring the idea of living completely apart from anything others can do for one. So yes, your own personal happiness is happiness, but only for you unless you share it, which isn’t something Chris Candless thought worthy, it seems. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your trips. Those of us who will never go there can experience it a tiny bit that way, and we truly appreciate your sharing!

    • anto

      Thanks for sharing your thoughs. I always love to hear what other people think of it because it can be interpreted in so many ways. I’m happy to hear from you and hope you can travel along with me a bit through my blog. All the best to you!

  • vic

    I think you are missing the point, it’s a phrase written right in the moment you know you’re dying… you are not prepared because it is the most significative moment of your life, the last one. At least in the movie he was obsessed with having that trip to Alaska, he refused many chances of life showing him the way because he wasn’t listening to it, he only had in mind his life in Alaska… his plan. Alaska wasn’t the place where he found himself, it was the place that took him what he has found in his trip… he realized he was wrong and he missed his chance to be happy all because he was escaping from real life to an idealized place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *