Happiness: It’s The Little Things

This past January at a film festival, I got to chat briefly with big-mountain skier Chris Davenport. He’s a big deal (among other things, he’s skied the Lhotse Face on Everest, Denali, all 54 Colorado 14ers in one year, first descents all over the world, et cetera), as well as a businessman, author, husband, and father of three, and somehow holds it all together without at all looking stressed any time you see him.

We talked briefly about the idea of “balance,” which many of us will tell you we’re seeking these days—better work-life balance, more balance so we’ll feel less stressed, more balance between the importance of our careers vs. our families. A consistent level of everyday happiness. I said I didn’t think there was such a thing as balance, at least lately, for me.

Chris said, “For me, it just means being on the mountain every day.”

When he says “the mountain,” he means Aspen/Snowmass, where he lives. Which sounds like quite a lofty idea for most of us, who don’t live in Aspen. But I don’t think he literally means skiing at Aspen—I think he just means doing something that makes him happy every day. In my limited experience hearing Chris speak or chatting with him, I think he’s excited to hike and ski Highlands Bowl almost any day it has enough snow cover to do so, whether it’s a bluebird day with good snow, or 10 below with 40 mph winds. He’s a hero to some folks because he skis huge terrain in the world’s highest mountains, but he’s also a hero because he’s permanently stoked on clicking into skis, even on the local mountain he’s skied a bajillion times.

Psychologist Dr. Jeremy Dean says many small pleasures beat fewer larger ones. As he wrote on PsyBlog: “If you keep doing lots of small, different pleasurable things, you’ll get more pleasure overall and you’ll feel happier. This is partly why many small pleasures beat fewer larger ones. … Small pleasures also take advantage of the fact that eating twice as much cake in one go isn’t twice as nice. It’s a bit better but not twice as good. It’s certainly much better to have some cake than no cake, but not twice as good to have double the cake.”

Most of us don’t live at the base of a world-famous ski resort, or 15 minutes from Smith Rock or the Red, or the trails in Fruita, but we do know what things make us happy in our everyday, or every-week, life—a certain trail run, bike path, session at the climbing gym, weekend cragging trip. We fixate more about our big trips, or big goals for the year—our ski vacation somewhere, a trip to Europe, the weeklong backpacking trip—but what makes us happy?

Just some cake. Or “being on the mountain” every day, as Chris says.

-Brendan

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