How to be happy

Reading this today reminded me of a story from when I was going to school at Santa Barbara. During my time there I was a very involved undergraduate: I helped run the campus chapter of the Surfrider Foundation; I helped start and run an outdoor club called Regional Experiences. Being involved with these clubs helped legitimize, in my mind at least, all the time that I spent surfing and hiking and exploring outside of classes and studying. Plus it was a chance to hang out and meet some great friends.

Being a club “President” meant that I was periodically invited to leadership events put on by the school. One of these was a retreat to Zaca Lake, located in the Sedgwick Reserve. My friend Nick, who was my partner in running Regional Experiences, had been itching to go there but access was limited because of the reserve status. This was our chance to visit and hike around part of the Santa Ynez mountains that few get to see. So we signed up and a few weeks later we were in a van headed up into the mountains.

Because this was a leadership retreat, we struggled through the icebreakers and team-building exercises, keeping one eye out the window at the terrain we wanted to explore. Most of the program wasn’t really applicable to Nick or me, or our clubs. But I vividly remember one exercise, which was about how to keep a balanced life even while being so busy with extracurricular activities. We were asked to write down our five favorite things to do when we had free time. I don’t remember what my five, probably surfing, hiking, reading, swimming, and taking pictures (things haven’t changed much in the last ten years). Then they asked us to raise our hands if we managed to do one of these things each week. Everyone raised a hand. Two things per week. A few hands went down. Three things. Most hands went down. Four things. Only Nick and I had our hands raised. Five things? Nick and I glanced at each other, hands up. Well, of course. Who doesn’t make time to do your favorite things? We even go out and start clubs so we can spend more time doing them and getting other people to join us. What was wrong everyone else who put their hands down after only one or two?

Some things have changed in ten years. My five favorite things are pretty much the same. I don’t get to surf much anymore but I get to dive often for work, which is amazing. Hiking in north Florida isn’t the same as hiking the coastal mountains of California, but I appreciate it differently. If you asked me today, I would be one of the people putting down their hand after only doing one or two. I think it’s time to work on changing that.

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