A Proven Recipe For Happiness
The revered French sailor Alain Gerbault once said "I wanted freedom, open air and adventure. I found it on the sea." Alain came to be so enamoured by the thrill of sailing that he abandoned his career as a civil engineer, bought a 39ft yacht and embarked on a solo circumnavigation of the globe. We may not all be cut from such impulsive cloth, or so willing to renounce our 9 to 5's and set sail for a life of adventure, but Gerbault hits on a fundamental truth. Whether you consciously lust for freedom and adventure or not, the most primitive territories of our brains; those that preside over our basic biological impulses, soar when exposed to it, and there is no place to satisfy this intrinsic desire so purely than at sea.
Sailing incorporates many of the most essential ingredients for happiness. One of its significantly beneficial advantages being its effect on the mind. The practise of mindfulness (despite being hijacked by the cult of 'wellness' in recent years) is accepted as one of the most singularly valuable exercises for positive mental health. The essence of the idea is to be completely present and in the moment; deeply conscious of the sensations in your body, your emotions and surroundings. Mindfulness has been proven to lower stress levels, relieve anxiety, improve mental clarity, boost mood and alleviate pain, and is perhaps more necessary in our modern day society then ever before. We live in an age of perpetual sensory bombardment and immediate communication; if we don't reply to our whatsapp or emails right away we risk being perceived as rude, sloppy, or dead. All of this gradually increases our stress levels, and surreptitiously erodes our spirit. The physical act of sailing by its very nature requires undistracted focus on exactly where you are and what you're doing, and being at sea - miles from the ruckus of daily life - or a wifi network - silences the chaos and allows you to look back at it, disconnected, and from a distance.
On a more neurological level (stay with me); water has a calming effect on our senses. Just looking at water can induce a mediative state; quieting our minds and heightening our focus on our surroundings and bodies. Research has proven that the simple, methodical sound of waves also has a hypnotic effect on brain patterns; sending us into a deep level of anxiety melting relaxation, and the physical sensation of surrendering to the natural ebb and flow of water creates the same effect.
Sailing is also a great (and downright fun) form of exercise; shown to improve both strength and cardiovascular fitness. In addition to the obvious benefits of conditioning and physical wellbeing, exercise releases endorphins; morphine like chemicals that reduce stress and pain and create a feeling of euphoria. It also increases our levels of dopamine and serotonin (the happy chemicals) which boost feelings of pleasure and ward off anxiety and depression. Essentially, stress is the enemy of happiness, and it is very hard to feel stressed whilst sailing. Unless your boat is sinking or you suspect a mutiny.
There are further benefits beyond the physical effects on the brain and body. Some like Alain chose to sail alone - don't get me wrong, there is enormous joy to be found in solitary travel, but that is for another conversation - but for most, sailing is a collaborative enterprise. We are at our core social animals; we thrive on camaradery and connections with others. In evolutionary terms, belonging to a group was necessary for survival; so as to make one less vulnerable to lions, and many psychologists believe that as a result today the notion of 'belonging' satisfies a deep need in us, it feeds the soul. Sailing is one of the most enjoyable team endeavours out there. In close quarters and with the common goal to steer your vessel and not drown, you have no choice other than to create strong bonds with your crew; bonds that gratify our need for close relationships and stimulate happiness. This sailing company's ethos is exactly that, why sail alone when you can sail with all of your current or future best friends!
However, what may be the most enriching quality of sailing is not the effects on immediate happiness, but on satisfaction in the long term. It is accepted as fact that people who prioritise experiences are happier and more optimistic overall than those who prioritise material things. This is because, as exciting as a new pair of shoes may be the day they come into our lives, we adapt to material objects, and so the feelings of pleasure they incite in us decrease over time, as their presence becomes more familiar. By contrast, experiences like travel and adventures leave a profound imprint on us; creating emotive, visceral memories that continue to bring us joy over time.
So what are you waiting for? Set sail now and head for the horizon! I'll see you there.
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