BLOG: Does climbing make you happy….? by Dave Sarkar

Dave looking very happy on top of Gable Crag, Winter 2010

Work’s been pretty hectic lately, way too much of it and definitely not enough play. Kev seems to be doing fine with great tales of winter adventure; he’s young, single and hungry! I finally got some time free and decided to head over to Almscliffe, a gritstone crag, famous in Yorkshire for its ferocious routes and outstanding bouldering. On the way over I suddenly felt really happy, I hadn’t actually got to the crag but the anticipation of being there was very pleasurable.

There’s lot’s of happiness talk about at the moment, it’s even reached the Prime Minister’s ear. We’re not happy and the he’s going to do something about it! I doubt it, happiness is a very real, personal and intense emotion and it’s very different for each and every one of us. Happiness for some is money, for others sex and for others it’s experiences. These are, of course, emotions at the radical end as relentless pursuit of one is obsession and is definitely not healthy. Research has shown that happiness is a combination of factors; to define it you need to strip out the human basics of food, shelter and sex. We have an abundance of these in the west (OK, we may not have an abundance of sex, but as my mum used to say to me ‘there’s plenty of fish, you just need to go fishing more often’). Strip these out of the happiness equation and you have three headings to ponder.

Pleasure: nailing the redpoint, topping out on the boulder problem you’ve been trying all winter, talking about that Grade V ascent in the pub, basking in the sun on the summit. These are all pleasure activities.

Challenge: this goes without saying: trying that boulder problem time and time again. Falling off and working out new sequences for your redpoint. Gritting your teeth and fighting the gnarly spindrift on Point 5 Gully. Planning for a successful Alpine ascent or training your butt off down the gym all winter. These are all challenge events, they may not feel like happiness when they are happening, but you are fully engaged.

Meaning: this is a big ask, it’s all about contribution and belonging. It could be participating in BMC area meetings, doing stuff for your Climbing Club; enjoying crag clean ups;  helping mates get into climbing and just generally just being part of the climbing scene. It could even mean you being an enthusiastic forum user and ethics defender (say no more!).

Happiness lies in a combination of all three, when we are engaged in all three we enter a ‘flow’state. This is where we are operating at peak performance, we have all experienced it somewhere, our first lead, leading the Rogue pitch on Point 5; cruising the red point and crushing the boulder problem. The problem is it doesn’t happen very often so is hard to pin down. So it’s worth finding time to develop the state. Well thanks to Rana Betting of www.climbingpsych.com we can train to achieve it, she advocates:

Having clear goals (i.e. get to the top of the climb…).
The activity is set up to give you immediate feedback (i.e. popping off of a climb or successfully making it to the top is definitely immediate feedback).
There being a balance between the level of challenge and your level of skill.
Having a high degree of concentration and focus.
You have a sense of control over the activity
You become so absorbed in what you are doing that you experience a loss of self-consciousness (as in worrying, am I doing this technique right?), time flies by (wow, I can’t believe we’ve been on this route for an hour!) and your focus of awareness is narrowed to only the activity itself (you’re not thinking about bills you need to pay or the drama you had with your sig. other last night).
It’s fun and rewarding! (This one is important. Otherwise, why climb?)

I would also like to add that although we spend a lot of time planning and thinking about future climbing adventures in far away places happiness is often to be found closer to home. Oh and the crag? It was bloody freezing, but I was happy 🙂 Thanks Rana.

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