August 22, 2016

Why all the unhappiness?

IT’S A SOBERING THOUGHT, but the success rate among people who plan to go long-term cruising under sail is only 35 to 40 percent. What is the problem here? What makes 60 percent of cruisers unhappy?

Well, two things spring to mind. 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 cruising 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 find the serenity you seek.

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 another Mainly about Boats column.)


SV Pelagia said...

Success rate of only 30-40%? How have you defined "success"? Only those who continue cruising? Going cruising for 1-2 years and returning home because you've figured out cruising (and living) back home is more enjoyable for you (as we did) is, in my mind, equally successful.

John Vigor said...

Pelagia, I believe that statistic came from the Pardeys, who have studied the matter in some detail. I agree that cruising for a couple of years and then coming back to live at home is "successful." It depends on whether you achieved your stated goal and whether, indeed you had a goal at all. Too many people set off without a set plan for exactly where they are going and when they should be there. The goal needn't be fancy. You don't have to sail around the world. Taking the temperature of the sea in mid-oceans for a university research group could be a goal. Collecting postage stamps from every country Joshua Slocum visited is another. If you don't have goals, or you don't plan for them and achieve them, you change from a serious cruiser to a wandering liveaboard, and the chances of your giving up sailing become greater. Rows break out with your partners, because you can't agree how long to stay in a certain place, or where to go next. If you have a goal, those decisions are made for you, and made well in advance, so everyone knows what to expect. I believe that the Pardeys regarded giving up sailing early on as the big sin, as the sign of an unsuccessful cruise, but it takes all kinds to make a cruising world and I don't know whether you'd call Bernard Moitessier unsuccessful in his early days just because he was a wanderer, a self-styled vagabond, with no set goals except to enjoy himself on the deep wide ocean. Liveaboards might not automatically be successful cruisers, but there's nothing to stop them enjoying themselves in other ways, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I think another point may be made about having a shore based abode to return to. Selling all and jumping aboard a boat may seem like a great plan, but what if things fail to work out, or you get ill or injured? We are land creatures first. Not having a backup abode ashore seems to me no different than not having a backup bilge pump if the electric one bites the dust. If you are single like me, with no family nearby, this becomes even more critical. My own objective would be to have at least one to two years of rent money stashed in a "do not touch" account, or a late model mobile home back ashore.

Patrick Hay said...

An old Chinese proverb defines the three things you need to make you happy. They are 1) something to do, 2) someone (or something) to love, 3) something to look forward to.

Most people who go cruising on board a good boat would normally have all of these things, therefore they must, by definition, be happy. If, however, you are a lone sailor who hates his boat and has no destination in mind, you might not have many happy moments.