How to make yourself happy: Learn to scuba dive

Diving is this “...crazy activity that takes us out of our natural habitat ... It's exciting and scary and it could be fatal if we’re not being cautious but it's also peaceful and magical. There so much down there to explore. I feel like Alice in wonderland with all of the strange wonderful creatures. And no matter what is going on at the surface underwater I feel at peace and can let go of anything...  happiest making bubbles”


If you are a diver, I’m guessing reading that first bit just made you happy.  That’s because just thinking about diving can alter our emotions, and this paragraph contains many of the ingredients for what makes us happy as divers.  How do I know that? Well, we asked 8,000 Girls that Scuba about their happiness in diving.  This is what they said ...

What a wonderful world!

Divers frequently experience overwhelming happiness and joy in response to awesome encounters with nature.  For many of us, diving takes us closer to creatures than we ever thought was possible, we can get so close it can feel unreal: 


“I feel like I'm taking part in a national geographic episode when I dive, I can almost hear David Attenborough narrating in the background.”


But it is not just the marine life, it can also be the wonder of natural phenomenon and geography, 


“Diving into caves and tunnels ...There's hardly any wildlife. Only ancient growths and columns. Large rooms with light rays beaming through that remind us of cathedrals.”


“more than once I've cried into my mask because I've been so moved by the beauty and peace around me. I just feel so privileged that I get to see and experience this secret, beautiful world.”


We can experience the privilege of discovering a hidden world that is “kept secret unless you dive in.” 


Divers also find happiness due discovery and exploration above the waves, as a result of becoming divers:


“I ... love the fact it takes me all over the world so I ...see different cultures in places I've only ever dreamed of going!! 

scuba diving girls
Love, happiness and new friendship. That's what scuba diving is all about!

Making bubbles

 “Diving is ... an escape from reality”: descending below the surface takes us away from our usual stresses in life such as technology, and even respite from dealing with other people and the world in general.   We can temporarily get away from “the phones, discord, news,[and] squabbles that are on the surface”

 “Whatever is going on at the surface, whatever problems may be up there. They stay there.”


 “... when you sink under the water, the distractions melt away and all you hear is the sound of your own breath.”


 “Making bubbles” is certainly something that makes us very happy indeed!

  “It's just you, your breathing and the sea.”


Diving is also the ultimate call to observe the moment.  When we are diving we need to remain aware, to monitor our depth, position and gauges, in order to be in control and safe. This means staying focused: “there is no room for anything else to exist”.  


 “diving helps you focus on the now. You can't be worried about emails at work or whatever. You have to focus on what you are doing or it can have dire consequences.”


The paradox of diving: how is it that an activity so full of objective dangers is so utterly relaxing?  Perhaps the need to attend to basic survival needs directs our attention and changes what we consider important in our thoughts?  We attend less to the noise and useless negative thoughts and, as a result, there is more room for subjectively positive emotions?


“It's the most in-tuned I am to myself and my environment. There's something about doing an activity that can have such grave consequences. It leads to a super awareness that is both exhilarating and calming at the same time. All those things I thought mattered on the surface disappear, it's truly euphoria.”


Diving is ...

peace. calm. serenity 

 ... “aquatic meditation”.

girls that scuba
Marine life interaction = pure joy!

Rewarding experiences

One of the big drivers of our motivation is something psychologists call “mastery”.   When we perceive ourselves as being skilled in a task and actively engage with the challenge to improve our abilities, we are experiencing high levels of mastery.  Achievement and accomplishment are rewarding, feeling happy is one component in reward.  Scuba diving is a complex activity, requiring us to be skilled within a challenging environment, using specialised equipment and raises uncomfortable emotions that need to be dealt with.  It takes effort to learn to dive well, so our sense of reward can be intense:

“In learning to scuba dive ... there is a lot of investment in learning, being tested, passing skills..., overcoming any obstacles and difficulties, before you get to appreciate the ... satisfaction and sense of accomplishment”


 “My happiness in diving comes from the fact that I Can!”


For some divers the achievement doesn’t end there, for those who decide to share the skill with others, there is a further source of reward:


“ There is nothing as ... joyful than to see someone diving for the first time with you and getting those little sparkles in their wide open eyes, .... you finally get them in there, in the blue and feel overwhelmed by all their happiness. Teaching diving always seems to me like learning [to dive] over, and over again and having a dip in that incredible moment that was my own very first dive through the reflection of my students”


And don’t forget, diving is being a “superhero” : 

“I can breathe under water!”

Diving is the best therapy

“Happiness is.... stepping off the boat and into the best therapy pool in the world.”


Many divers talk about diving as their therapy, it somehow removes or relieves our most unpleasant emotions and has a restorative effect:

“It literally melts away all my worries and fears!”


Even the non-divers can see what is does for us:

 “Whenever I get cranky at work, my team  ... will politely request that I get wet.”

And it doesn’t end with the dive! We use our underwater experiences to help regulate our emotions on the surface; to relax or even to help us sleep. It’s almost like we can keep hold of the way we feel when we dive and use it when we need it:

“...  the effects last. When I am stressed at night and can't stop my thoughts from racing, I take a deep breath and visualize that giant stride off the boat and my last dive. It always de-stresses me and helps me sleep.”

Jumping for joy!
Jumping for joy!

Then there’s the life changers

Belonging:  “I love the connection and friendships you form through diving”

Self-image: “one of the only times I feel no animosity towards my body. I'm just so grateful it can take me diving”

Self-confidence:  “I'm capable of doing something ... daunting before. Feeling accomplished”

Self-esteem: “I felt for the first time in my whole life that I'd achieved something special”

Purpose: “It is the only thing I willing wake up at 5 a.m. for”  

And sometimes, it is just plain fun!

“the hilarious moments ... , the 'did you see THAT?!' kind of moments ... like when you spot a rude shaped coral or a fish do something funny ..  snorting with laughter ,flooding your mask and almost spitting your regs out”


If you like talking to other divers about how diving makes you feel, come and join discussion on the Girls that Scuba Facebook group.

About the author

Laura is a Scuba Diving Instructor and Clinical Psychologist with a fascination for the psychology of diving.  She is also the author of the PADI Psychological Diver course.  Learn about how psychology can improve your diving on her website and Facebook page.

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