Theory: Few things have intrinsic power. Most things only have as much power as we allow them to have. Giving away your power to externals leads to unhappiness.
I've had my share of addictions - cigarettes, alcohol, sugar, eating, not eating. At the time it seemed that each of these things had uncontrollable power over me. But they only had that power because I allowed it. At any time I could have decided; enough. I am reclaiming my power.
Every day countless people give away their power to externalities - their boss, their partner, food, body image, material possessions. How often do we think, "I'll be happy when I get the promotion / lose ten pounds / get a new car" or "I'm miserable, and it's all the fault of my partner / lack of money / weight"?
It doesn't have to be this way. Things are only annoying, depressing or irritating for as long as we allow them that headspace. Happiness doesn't have to wait for tomorrow, or depend on something outside of ourselves. We can be happy right here, right now - all we have to do is to allow ourselves to be. It's that simple, and that difficult.
Unexpectedly I have internet access tonight - at the Inversnaid Bunkhouse. We are camping in the grounds tonight, but I am currently sitting in the gorgeous living room of this converted chapel, feeling clean and refreshed after my first shower in 2 days, and looking forward to a hot dinner.
My sister and I are two days into the West Highland Way, a 95-mile hike through some of Scotland's most gorgeous scenery. Not that you'd have known that this morning - we woke up after a night of rain and wind, to a view of... the inside of a cloud. We struck the tent and made ready to depart. This included the ritual of the foot repair.
I stared in horror at my left foot. I had just tried to remove the blister patch I had applied yesterday lunchtime, and in the process had apparently pulled away most of my heel. A gaping hole, about 2 inches across, had opened up in my tender skin as I pulled away the patch. Feeling a bit queasy, I stuck it back down with sticky tape. But this was not what I wanted to see on the second morning of a one-week hike.
I poked tentatively at the matching blister patch on my right heel. It had the consistency of bubble wrap, and I suspected that a similar blister lurked beneath. I decided it was better to burst it than to leave it intact, spreading ever wider beneath my tortured skin. I screwed up my eyes, took a deep breath, and pulled. Bleurgh. Another gaping hole.
But the theory worked - especially aided by a couple of painkillers. My feet have been sore today, but not as bad as yesterday.
And I have been pleasantly distracted by the spectacular scenery along the shore of Loch Lomond. The weather forecast for today had been for showers, but we seem to have dodged most of them, and have been rewarded with gorgeous views of patches of sunshine mottling the Scottish hills, golden bracken, lush moss, and pretty woodland. This is exactly the kind of place that I used to imagine in mid-Atlantic when I needed to be in my 'happy place'.
It's the best of British scenery - and suddenly I am glad to be back again on this little island I used to call home.
P.S. If anybody would like to run a hostel in one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland on the shores of Loch Lomond, the Inversnaid Bunkhouse is for sale at £300,000. Ideal for someone who loves hiking or water sports (you'd be free to do whatever you want from 10am to 4pm every day) but doesn't mind giving up their evenings to minister to the needs of footsore hikers....
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....)