Mountain climb to find the meaning of life: study

WELLINGTON (Reuters Life!) - Next time you find yourself soul-searching and questioning the meaning of life, a New Zealand researcher recommends you try mountain climbing with a study finding mountaineers have a good grasp on life.

A climber walks past a glacier at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, one of the world's largest volcanoes and the highest free-standing mountain, in Tanzania January 4, 2006. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Far from being a sport that just provides thrills for testosterone-fuelled risk-takers, mountaineering actually helps gives people perspective in their lives, according to Lee Davidson, senior lecturer at the University of Victoria’s museum and heritage studies program.

“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.

“The stereotype is of climbers being young males, irrational and reckless, but I am quite cautious, I am not a risk taker and a lot of climbers would also describe themselves that way.”

For her research, Davidson conducted in-depth interviews with 22 New Zealand-based climbers and also spent a lot of time socializing with and interviewing several more.

She said she got into climbing in her 20s and the research, which won an award from the Australia and New Zealand Association for Leisure Studies, was conducted for her PhD thesis and will form the basis for a book on the same subject.

“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.

“Many said the mountain became their point of reference, it gave them a solid grounding, a core to life where everything else revolved around it.”

The research said one way that climbing helps shape identity was by providing an opportunity to test yourself in an environment where making a mistake means you pay for it.

Davidson said what attracted her to the topic was how mountaineers sustain their interest in the sport at a time when most people pursue short-lived, “synthetic” experiences rather than those that require perseverance and long-term effort.

“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.”

Writing by Miral Fahmy, editing by Belinda Goldsmith.