The Key to Happiness

The magazine's cover showed a sailboat, but the article inside about happiness didn't make the connection. CW's editor--it's what he does!--supplies the sailor's rewrite.

June 28, 2004

The cover’s what got me. I was blasting through the airport last March at 0-Dark-30 in search of strong coffee and the morning’s papers, and there it was: the sailboat. Now I just happen to be in the business of helping select great sailing photographs and putting them on magazine covers, so it shouldn’t have hit me like a bolt out of the blue. But it did. I suppose it was the context of where and how I stumbled on it, the fact that I wasn’t expecting it. For I wasn’t leafing through the sports or nautical section of the magazine racks. And it’s a rare day indeed when sailing gets the cover treatment from a national, general-interest publication like Reader’s Digest. But what sealed the deal were the seductive cover lines accompanying the (quite unexceptional) picture of the broad-reaching ketch: “10 Simple Keys to a Happy Life.”

This remarkable, even potentially life-altering information, I soon discovered, was available for the incredibly reasonable price of just $2.99. I couldn’t fork over my dough quickly enough.

We were aloft and at our “cruising altitude” of 33,000 feet before I retrieved my copy from my backpack, eager to learn how a mainstream writer had come to the conclusion that most readers of this magazine reached some time ago: A steady diet of raising sails and heading out to sea can be highly beneficial to one’s physical and mental well-being.


The trouble was, I couldn’t find the article.

Oh, there was indeed a piece listing 10 things shared in common by the truly blissful souls among us. And here’s some breaking news: Smart, wealthy, good-looking folks are generally very pleased with the way things are going.

So I had another look at the magazine’s cover and reckoned I’d just mistaken which story the sailing photo was actually flagging. But there wasn’t a single shipwrecked cruiser or capsized solo sailor in “Amazing Stories of Survival.” And nowhere in “Outrageous Fees You Shouldn’t Pay” was there even the slightest mention of Bahamian cruising permits or European Union import taxes. I kept searching.


“America’s Dumbest Criminals”? Nope, nothing at all regarding the fiascoes of the last America’s Cup.

“Great First Impressions”? Uh-uh, not a word about the new Morris 36.

“A Real Spider-Man”? I thought this might be the profile of some nimble, spar-climbing rigger, but alas, wrong again.


About this time, I realized that without much trouble at all, it’d be pretty simple to compile a list of 10 items that would make nearly any sailor happy. And so, to finish the job the editors at Reader’s Digest started, and in no particular order: 1. A snug, snug anchorage with a couple of hooks down in freshening weather. 2. Crossing off the last item on the work list. 3. The proverbial fair winds and following seas. 4. A stack of Jimmy Buffett CDs and a terrific stereo. 5. A light, well-balanced helm. 6. Tropical landfalls. 7. A full moon on a night watch. 8. A cockpit full of great friends and shipmates. 9. The first cold drink and hot meal ashore at the end of a long passage. 10. The deep, rejuvenating snooze thereafter.

Of course, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that I was overthinking the whole matter entirely. In fact, at second glance, I think the magazine did a sensational job of conveying a perfect nautical message with the minimal amount of fuss and muss.

You want to live a happier life?


Go sailing.


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