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This is the story of how I came to realize that bigger and bigger boats is not a way to a meaningful life.
I once had a 13 feet long rowing boat Anna that I had converted to a cruiser by decking her. 1967 I sailed her on the Swedish west coast and in Limfjord Denmark. 1968 I sailed her to England via Denmark, Germany, Holland and Belgium. In most of the fifty harbors I visited the grown ups had advised me to get a bigger boat. It would be safer, faster and make me more happy they all said.
Obediently I went back to Sweden were I found the hull of a 40’ steamboat. She was made of iron 1885. I named her Duga and converted her to a staysail schooner and sailed her to Rio Brazil. On the way in Las Palmas, Canary Islands, a 72 feet Camper and Nicholson Ketch dropped her anchor next to Duga.
She flew a Norwegian flag. It was father and son, his wife and baby. They were on their way to the Caribbean to do charter and wanted the boat to be shiny. I was asked to do the masts. First they had to be scraped, then varnished seven times, a big job that would take plenty of time. As a bonus I was invited to have all my meals onboard. After a few weeks on board the huge luxuries ketch I found her size to be just right. In the evening after the days work was done it felt embarrassing and unfair that I had to row back to my much smaller Duga.
In less than a year my comfort zone had grown from a 13 foot converted rowing boat to a 72 feet ketch.
During the long sail to Rio I realized that I was trapped in the hedonic treadmill. It was a sobering lesson. The grown ups had promised me that I would be more happy in a bigger boat. It was true initially but not in the long term. I had been fine in my 13 feet Anna. After Rio I sold Duga and built Bris a small boat that I sailed happily in for many years.
Most people do not realize that they adapt to the size of their boats so they want bigger and bigger all the time. Science has found out about that and given it the name hedonic treadmill.
It is a consequence of hedonic adaptation. When your boss gives you a raise you will initially be happier. After a time you habituate to the larger salary and return your happiness set point. Even if you win a million on the lottery the same thing happens, first you get happy, then you return to your happiness set point. Luckily this also goes for bad luck. You lose your job and your house burns a thing that happens to many in war but after some time you return to your happiness set point.
In our consumer society most persons waste their life upgrading their possessions to be in the false belief that they will get happier.
2011 in Porto Santo Madeira I witnessed an example of how a family had wasted their life’s saving in the false believe that they get more happy in a big expensive boat. They planned to sail around the world and wanted a new boat from a yard with good reputation.
They had ordered a 36 feet long boat. They had to wait 2 or 3 years for delivery. After a year or so the salesman told them that now there was a new model and that that model would have a better second hand value. The new model was more expensive but the family did not like to louse money so the upgraded. Then the salesman told them that there was problems with fresh water in the Pacific and that they better get a water maker. The water maker was expensive but they liked to have plenty of water.
Then the salesman told them that it would be stupid to run the main engine just for the water maker. He told them they better get a gen set.
At this point the family was about to run out of money so the said that they had to wait and see.
The salesman then told them that it would be far more expensive to install the gen set after the boat was built. The family got the gen set too.
Now the boat was so expensive that they had to sell their house. Not only that they also decided to work an extra year to better their economy, losing a year of cruising time.
Now the boat was so expensive and contained most of their life savings so they decided they better get an insurance.
Now the insurance company said that once they got into the Pacific the insurance would be more expensive because it was so dangerous to sail there. That drained their economy even more.
Also as the boat was so expensive they had to worry about her and the wife told the husband that he had to clean and polish the boat very often so that it did not depreciate in money and the wife had to worry about the inside was shiny and they did not have time to be happy.
I was feeling very sorry for the family. There I was at the same dock, enjoying the same landscape, paying less harbor due as my boat was smaller. I had no expensive insurance and I did not have to polish my boat. I had an oar instead of an engine. I did not have to change oil on my oar nor change any fuel filters on it and so on. I could spend my time enjoying myself.
Even sadder this story is not unique, there are thousands of families like that.
The solution is to have simple habits. With simple habits you can live on a small boat have a meaningful and not worry about economy and other boring things.
It is not easy to live a meaningful life in this world full of salesmen and plenty of advertisement but a simple habits is a good start.
I got my introduction to simple habits in an unlikely place.
The spring of 1962 I was living with eastern orthodox monks on the Mount Athos peninsula in Greece.
The Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain is a region in northern Greece. There are twenty monasteries and different villages and houses that depend on them. Around 2000 monks live there in seclusion, introspection and prayer. The landscape is sometimes called “Christian Tibet”.
I was there to learn from their different lifestyle. I was young and searched for answers to the big questions.
After some time among them I noticed that lived a very repetitious life. Everything was done over and over and again and again. They had fixed habits for everything. As I was walking in the landscape I became friends with an eremite. One time I asked him about all those habits.
”You do everything over and over. Do you not find it boring always having to do the same thing all the time?” I asked him.
Sven, he told me,
”What you are noticing is my worldly life. You do not see my inner life. What I live for is to talk with God. I therefore simplify my worldly life because that gives me more time for God and that is what is important.”
I am an atheist. My passion is to find out about life. That eremite thought me something of value. Since then I have simplified my worldly life just like the monks on Athos. That gives me time to think about the mystery of life and each time I find out something it gives my life meaning.
Many humans are bored, their minds are fettered by worldly things. That prevents them living a meaningful life. Free animals are not bored nor should humans be.
One of my zeal’s is for the good boat. I also try to find answers to the big questions. That way of life is not for everyone. A meaningful life can also be found by gardening or painting or writing or like a bird just sitting on a twig singing all day. The main thing is to be interested in something and not caring to much about consuming.
Yukio Mishima expressed it well when he was asked how come he always delivered his manuscript so punctual. He answered: My fellow authors live bohemian lifes but their minds are bureaucratical. I live a punctual life that way I can write original books
If you like to be a free spirit, live a life of simple habits.
In the sixties people lived simpler lives, boats were smaller and people were not less happy.
One hundred years ago life was even simpler, there was no electricity and people were not less happy.
1845 Thoreaux built a cabin near Walden Pound and lived a meaningful life.
1750 Rosseau urged people to go back to nature.
For thousands of years wise men have urged people to live simple meaningful life’s. Building a small boat and sailing the huge oceans is one of many way’s of doing it.
SUSTAINABILITY – SIMPLE HABITS SIMPLE BOATS