Theory: You are more likely to be happy once you've committed to something and are determined to make it work.
The reporter on This American Life gave the example of his marriage: while they were engaged he was aware of all his fiancee's faults. Once they married, and his commitment to the relationship was total, her faults faded into insignificance and he felt himself to be the luckiest man alive. (I hope, for his sake, that this honeymoon period lasts a long time, and that his awareness of those faults doesn't come back with a vengeance....)
W H Murray knew this (although often incorrectly attributed to Goethe):
"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one element of truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans - that moment one commits oneself, then providence moves all."
Before I decided to start rowing oceans there were a number of other projects I had considered - an organic baking business, a tugboat-home conversion, a chain of coffee shops - but I never committed. I don't think they were necessarily bad ideas, and if I had committed I would certainly have done my darnedest to make them work, but none of them seemed quite right.
When the notion to row an ocean hit me one day with all the force of a thunderbolt, I knew immediately that this was the project for me. After a one-week period during which I tried to talk myself out of this insane idea, I gave in to the inevitable and committed myself to making it happen. Over the following 14 months leading up to my launch on the Atlantic, I often had moments of doubt, nerves, and occasionally blind panic, but my commitment carried me through.
During that preparation period I heard an ocean rower giving a talk in which he said, "It is not the decisions you make, it's how you execute them". That made such sense. Consider, commit and then push on without looking back. It's that doubting and dithering around a half-hearted commitment that gets in the way of success.
Theory: There is more happiness to be gained from lots of small pleasures than from a few big ones.
In 2001 my then husband and I moved into a large, 6-bedroom Edwardian house in west London. It was meant to be the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle of our happiness, the pinnacle of our materialistic aspirations. Did it make us happy? We broke up 6 months later.
This phenomenon is apparently not unusual - a couple move into their perfect home, and separate shortly afterwards. Why is this? Is it because they expect that the house, the biggest investment they will ever make in their lives, will make them happy - and if it doesn't they focus on their relationship as a possible cause for their dissatisfaction?
A year after I moved out of the house in west London I was living on a scruffy barge on the Thames, sharing it with 4 other people and a very hairy dog. I had almost no possessions and no income. But I had adopted a different attitude to life. I had learned to see the perfection in everything (or most things, anyway. Even on my most "enlightened" days I found it hard to see the perfection in the prolific clumps of dog hair that attached themselves to everything).
I could see the perfection in a rain shower, the timing of a phone call, a phrase in a book. I could look around and appreciate the tiniest things, and there was indeed endless satisfaction in these little pleasures, adding up to much more happiness than the big house ever brought.
It seems to me that the trouble with the Big Things that are supposed to make us happy is that they a) often involve stress-inducing levels of financial investment, b) tend to be high maintenance, and c) have a limited lifespan of novelty, so that before long you start to take them for granted or your neighbours buy a better one.
It is a lesson I have forgotten and had to re-learn countless times since - backsliding is so ridiculously easy to do - but it has come back to me forcefully in the last couple of weeks. This year's expedition did not go according to plan, but in the last few days a number of new opportunities have opened up that make me very glad that I am on dry land and able to give them the attention they deserve. I try to see the perfection in things as they are, not as I thought they would be.
"Everything happens for a reason", but it sometimes takes a while for that reason to become apparent. (I can't yet give you details of this particular reason, but it might, just might, involve a book deal for my Atlantic story....)
I am now back in so-called "civilisation". After a much-needed break in the small coastal town of Bolinas I am now feeling fully restored, the sleep bank has been replenished, and I am ready to return to the fray.
This Tuesday I fly to Britain for a 3-week trip, combining business and pleasure. I have various meetings with sponsors, media and agents, but will also be making time to hike the 95 miles of Scotland's West Highland Way with my sister. We haven't seen each other for nearly 2 years, since before I rowed the Atlantic - not deliberately, just an inability to find ourselves in the same country at the same time. Walking an average 13 miles a day and cramming ourselves into a small 2-man tent each night will give us possibly more than enough opportunity to catch up.
I won't have my laptop with me in Scotland - every ounce counts when you're carrying your world on your back - so I'm going to write a few blogs in advance, mostly philosophical maunderings inspired by an edition of This American Life I heard on the car radio last night.
This American Life was my staple listening fare for the first week of my Pacific row, and I suspect that for evermore Ira Glass's deadpan tones will remind me of the aborted Pacific Row 2007. I counted off the hours of my rowing shifts according to its one-hour episodes. One good thing about my enforced delay is that I will be able to add another year's worth of TAL podcasts to the 57 already on my iPod.
First of Roz's Ruminations coming up tomorrow....
[photo: departing from Crescent City, Aug 12. Battery Point Lighthouse in the background. For more photos of Aug 12 see this new album in my Gallery]
My Pacific row is a project of the Blue Frontier Campaign, a small nonprofit with the commendable objectives of promoting marine conservation through encouraging grassroots efforts and building consensus between the myriad of nonprofits involved with the oceans.
They are looking for a new director to staff their Washington, DC, office, so I am doing my bit to help find a new recruit by posting the "Positions Vacant" ad here. Contact details are at the bottom.
MARINE CONSERVATION LEADERSHIP POSITION AVAILABLE
POSITION - DIRECTOR - DC OFFICE, BLUE FRONTIER CAMPAIGN
REPORTS TO: PRESIDENT, BFC
LOCATION - WASHINGTON DC
STARTING DATE - IMMEDIATELY
The Blue Frontier Campaign is committed to building unity, providing tools and increasing awareness of the solution oriented ocean and coastal protection movement. It has organized national and regional conferences, tours and 'celebrations of the sea,' and produced organizing brochures, books including the 'Ocean and Coastal Conservation Guide' and '50 Ways to Save the Ocean,' and online resources including Blue Notes emails. It also works on school curriculums, print, radio, and TV stories and the bluefront.org website.
With founder David Helvarg establishing a West Coast Office BFC is looking for a motivated independent person to run our DC office. The job will include fundraising and development for BFC, basic financial administration, organizing a national Blue Vision Summit in 2008, working on the website, and with the media as well as a wide range of marine organizations. The Director will also oversee interns and volunteers, and do conference outreach both on Capitol Hill and to local and regional seaweed groups across the nation.
We're looking for someone who is self-directing and entrepreneurial, has experience or familiarity with running the day-to-day operations of a small NGO, and is passionate about restoring our living seas through bottom up citizen action. Writing skills are a plus.
Work is based in Washington DC. Salary is commensurate with experience.
Submit resume and cover letter to:
Please be prepared to email a letter explaining your interest and a resume.