September 18, 2011

Pursuing cruising happiness

ONE OF MY RECENT COLUMNS has made a reader very unhappy. “I’m about to retire from a very stressful career,” writes someone who signs himself Disillusioned. “For more than 20 years I have been kept going by my dream of finally taking off into the blue on my yacht, of finding the happiness I have dreamed of for so long. Now you tell me that the success rate among people who plan to go long-term cruising is only 35 to 40 percent. I can’t stand the thought that I’ve been waiting and preparing in vain. Why is the cruiser drop-out rate 60 percent? What makes them unhappy?”

Well, Disillusioned, two things, basically. The first thing is that most people need a goal when they go cruising. They need to feel they have a plan, that they are making progress, and that they will eventually accomplish something worth-while. But too many people don’t put enough thought into creating a goal. They believe that they can just take off into the sunset with a champagne glass in hand and find happiness on the way. They can’t.

The second thing is that they don’t understand what happiness is. It’s not the evanescent feeling of joy and laughter you get from watching the clowns. It’s not nonstop smiles and jokes. It’s far deeper and longer-lasting than that.

Democritus, one of the leading Greek philosophers, taught that the goal of life is happiness. He said that at all times man should seek happiness. And, of course, you probably remember that the pursuit of Happiness is part of one of the most famous phrases in the Declaration of Independence.

So what is happiness, then? Democritus described it as a state of mind, an inner condition of tranquility, a harmony of the soul, a combination of reflection and reason ... in fact, what amounts to serenity.

My own theory is that happiness is serendipitous. It sneaks up on you and ambushes you when you’re quietly going about your normal day-to-day cruising activities. If you set out purposely to pursue happiness, it flees in front of you and you can never catch it. But ignore it, and it will creep back and embrace you.

So, before you go, Disillusioned, make sure you understand what happiness is. Make sure, too, that your cruising plan is based on a solid goal. And then, if you have a good number of points in the Black Box, happiness will wrap its welcome cloak around you and you will be Disillusioned no more.

Today’s Thought
Happiness? A good cigar, a good meal, a good cigar and a good woman—or a bad woman; it depends on how much happiness you can handle.
— George Burns, NBC TV, 16 Oct 84

“Why don’t you play bridge with Jim any more?”
“Well, would you play with a man who keeps aces up his sleeve and cheats every time he writes the score down?”
“Of course not.”
“Neither will Jim.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Roger John Jones said...

As a single hand sailor who spends quite a bit of time with cruising couples let me suggest one reason why there are many "cruising failures." It is that the "goal" of female and male cruisers is in many cases quite different. I realize that every case is unique but I can make the following generalizations:

Many women are looking for community and company. When they find a marina where they make friends they tend to settle in - hence places like Vero Beach that get the nickname "velcro Beach." In addition, women seem more connected with their children and grandchildren. They seem to desire more frequent off boat experiences to visit their families.

Most men are more interested in moving from location to location.
Thus there seems to be a built in tension with many couples about when it is time to move on.
Again, this is a generalization - not all couples fit this model.
I hope this helps.

Deb said...

I have to say that I believe the main reason that people fail cruising is because they have unreasonable expectations. Most people look at cruising as a way to escape whatever it is that is miserable/uncomfortable/unpleasant, etc. in their lives, when in reality, whatever your nature is as a land-based person is what your life will be like as a cruiser except that it will be amplified by a 100 times. If you are generally a happy person on land then you will still be a happy person cruising. If you are generally an anxious person on land you will be forever anxious on the open ocean. If you are angry at all the mistreatment you receive on land, you will be shocked at the uncaring treatment you will receive from the cold depths of the blue. Cruising is life at its most intense, all things laid bare, all stops pulled. The best assurance of success at cruising is having an honest discussion with yourself as to your expectations. Honest discussions with ourselves are the bane of human existence, ergo the high failure rate of cruising.

S/V Kintala

andre said...

''The goal of life is happiness''

Is ''happiness'' as written by Democritus and in the US constitution
not better descibed as contentment?