After two weeks of luxury, I’ve realized that it’s the stress and disruptions of my normal life that make me happy

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Destiny blesses me and lures me out of my hamster wheel at home with the offer of a two-week Caribbean cruise. I jump at the offer, vibrating with excitement at the thought of floating my glacier cabin on warm aquamarine waves for a fortnight.

I will cruise the “Jewels” of the Caribbean on a ship equipped with spa, fine dining, balconies, suites, caviar and champagne on demand. Of course, after all Martin’s work in my cabin, I invite him to join me. Besides, there aren’t many other people I could spend a fortnight in a cabin with.

We land on Saint-Martin and leave the airport in a wall of heat, soft and gentle like a hug. I feel my body, tense from the winter tremors in a stone cabin, thaw and relax.

The pampering program begins on board the ship. Everything is luxurious. The teak balconies, the lavish buffets, the decks with fat-cushioned sun loungers spaced far enough apart that you don’t need to chat, braided in between by staff bringing cocktails. Thoughts of the sewage problems plaguing my cottage quickly fade away.

In Somerset I fumed endlessly about my new house – the cost of heating oil and the black mold bloom reappearing on my bedroom wall; about whether I’ll ever finish the kitchen (having happily ripped out old cabinets just to quickly test the limits of my DIY skills). Now I indulge in pampering instead.

Instead of spending days pondering if the shade is leaking and how much it will cost to rewire the electrical system, I turn my attention to finding the perfect sunbed to spend the day reading Danielle Steel. I trade my morning panic over whether the boiler is working well enough to give me hot water for a shower, and instead consider when it’s acceptable to order piña coladas poolside and whether ordering cocktails straight away is a faux pas order The whirlpool.

I go from a hut covered in a fine layer of black dog hair to a hut where the cleaning lady comes twice a day: make my bed, fold my clothes, leave fresh flowers and fizzy water.

I forget how I learned at home how to clear the outside drains by sticking a stick down the manhole through a sludge of caramel fatberg, and instead waste an entire morning in my cabin wondering what pillows to get off choose the pillow selection.

Some compare luxury to being treated like a child. On the cruise, I happily slip into an infant state, swapping stressful adult decisions about how long to pay off my mortgage for highly frivolous ones, like whether dinner at 7 p.m. is too early to give us enough time beforehand to leave cocktails on deck.

Sometimes the indulgence on the cruise is plentiful. Our chambermaid suggests that Martin and I order caviar and champagne to our cabin every day at 5:00 p.m. We balk at the ridiculous offer and then accept it. (It’s all inclusive!)

Martin and I are lucky for a week. Then something happens that I didn’t think was possible. We acclimate. Luxury becomes the norm. I forget that I live in a cottage, where I often wake up shaking or my shower is interrupted because the showerhead falls off the wall, and instead I get so used to luxury that I struggle with it.

I giggle at the novelty of having “staff,” and become slightly irritated by how regularly the maid tidies up our cubicle (and moves my carefully tossed clothes) and how often the phone rings. “Can you believe it’s that fine dining restaurant calling to see if we want dinner at the Grill again?”

We regret with other guests that the absolutely perfect weather is a few degrees too hot on some days (because the ship is not at sea but moored at another paradise island). We’re disappointed when our piña coladas come without that extra dark rum topping that a bartender adds extra to treat us.

Martin and I are horrified when we step onto the deck one morning to find our favorite sun loungers gone. Where shall we sit? Shocked by the excess of daily caviar orders, we raise our eyebrows when it’s 15 minutes late. We laugh at ourselves for being so spoiled, but it’s true that in the midst of total luxury, we somehow still find things we’re unhappy with.

This reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s observation in his book David and Goliath, where he examines how the relationship between money and happiness is an inverted U-curve. So while having more money makes you happy up to a point, after you’ve met your basic needs and enjoyed a few luxuries, your happiness stagnates and begins to decline. Gladwell points out that there is something in the struggle itself, in hard work and in knowing the value of money, that gives us contentment. This happiness is not so much about money as it is about fulfillment.

On the cruise I learn to appreciate that and notice something. That my tricky, cold cottage, with all its frustrations, cracks, problems, and leaks, might actually make me happy—not in spite of the challenges it throws at me, but because of them. Because with every new obstacle and mishap, every leaking faucet and broken radiator I face, I enjoy figuring out how to fix it. And then the buzz of knowing I did it.

I fly home flushed from my epiphany, excited to return to my cold, damp, leaky, wonderful cottage. I open my door to find Workaway T shaking in the kitchen

“The boiler is broken,” she says.

This week I’ve been obsessed with…

  • The Misfortune of the English, a new play by Pamela Carter directed by Oscar Toeman, about optimism, misadventure and a group of schoolboys who get lost in a snowstorm. Currently live at the Orange Tree Theater and livestreaming on May 12th here
  • • The Candid Book Club, a coalition of five women of color who review books and host online and live events: find them on Instagram @thecandidbookclub
  • • Peony scented candle by Ormande Jayne. The house may be messy, but at least it smells nice

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