Around 7:30, the ominous clouds we had been eyeing since dawn finally break and a chilly rain begins to fall. But no one seems to mind. Not our captain, who's standing at the helm, guiding us toward our next island; not the crew members who are rhythmically whisking eggs and cutting fruit as if they're back in their own apartments; and not me. I was fresh out of bed, perched on deck and inhaling deep breaths of the fresh sea air, letting my mind wander in thought. The scene was pleasantly normal; with aromas of fresh-brewed coffee wafting up from the cabin, the gentle hum of conversation and Matt on his computer, off-loading his photos from the night before.
So, this is paradise, I thought.
Conventional wisdom suggests that paradise is often found on the distant shores of some island, a place where palm trees dance in the tropical breeze and the water is so translucent you can see the white powder all the way at the bottom. It’s a place where harmony and peace are in ample supply, and the minutiae of daily life is all but forgotten. (Oh, and the epic selfie spots. You can’t forget about those.)
But from my seat on this sailboat as it cuts through the turquoise waters of the Sir Francis Drake Channel, I’m at an impasse: though I’m here in a place as enchanting as the British Virgin Islands, I’m left wondering if this is really where happiness is made.
“There are only three things you need in life to be happy,” the shopkeeper says in his thick Carribean accent. “Good food, good wine and - can you guess the other? Good sex.” He sits there grinning, his brown skin a cornfield of furrows as he rings out my bottled waters from behind the register. Our group is running low on supplies and patience as the end of our trip grows nearer, so we’ve docked our dinghy on the eastern end of Great Harbour on Jost van Dyke for a chance to give our sea legs a rest.
After a few more exchanges - of smiles and words - our group moves on but my mind doesn’t.
I considered the shopkeeper’s words as I walked the packed dirt road that hugged the coastline. I thought about them as we found a seat at Foxy’s bar, as day curled into night. Thought until the entire island was lost under thick layers of fog and incessant drizzle, when I finally decided to abandon my insecurities and jump onto the dance floor, sweating to the beat of steel drums.
Over the past decade, an abundance of psychology research has revealed that experiences, not materials, bring people more happiness. And I think that’s what the shopkeeper was getting at. It’s not the beauty of a place or the trinkets you buy that make you happy, it’s the people and experiences you have along the way.
And that, for me, is paradise.