I just returned from a wonderful family vacation. Beautiful weather, mostly cheerful children, and no major mishaps (no travel disasters, bicycle crashes, poison ivy, etc.)
Being on vacation reminded me of several things about happiness – the first being, remember to take a vacation! Especially given the technology these days, it’s tempting to have a change of scenery and call it a vacation. But a vacation really means taking a break from work.
I was reminded of several other happiness principles, as well:
1. Fun is important to happiness. Is there such a thing as "fun for the whole family"? I think so, but I've learned that on vacation I need to make sure I make time for the things that I find fun – which in my case means reading. Sometimes I think, “Why am I just lying here, reading, on such a beautiful day? I should be going for a run/playing in the ocean/learning to play tennis.” But it's a Secret of Adulthood – Just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fun for me. I love to read, and now I let myself read as much as I can get away with, given the realities of a family vacation. After all, I still do plenty of other things. And speaking of that Secret of Adulthood, the converse is true:
2. Just because something isn’t fun for me doesn’t mean that someone else won't find it fun. For instance, grocery shopping. It finally dawned on me that my husband loves to make a quick trip to the grocery store. I kept trying to make lists and be efficient and ask if he really had to make another trip to the store, until I realized: he loves to bike over to the grocery store for a few items. One day he went four times. That’s FUN for him.
3. Sleep is important to happiness – the more I learn about sleep, the more convinced I become of that fact. Sleep keeps people feeling cheerier, it strengthens the immune system, it may even play a role in keeping weight off. According to one study, a bad night’s sleep was one of the top two factors that upset people’s daily moods (along with tight work deadlines). Another study suggested that getting one extra hour of sleep each night would do more for your daily happiness than getting a $60,000 raise.
Accordingly, over the last few years, I’ve made a big effort to get more sleep – but during this vacation, there were several nights when I got TEN HOURS of sleep. Yes, I went to sleep at 9:30 p.m. and slept until 7:30 a.m., which I just wouldn’t have thought possible. This suggests to me that I may still not be getting enough sleep in my usual routine.
4. One irksome task can make vacation more fun. Some interesting studies suggest that interrupting a pleasant experience with something less pleasant can intensify a person’s overall pleasure. For example, commercials make TV-watching more fun.
For the last ten months, I’d been procrastinating about ordering a photo album from Shutterfly with our family pictures, and the task had really started to weigh on my mind. For this vacation, I decided to take a break from all work, except to do that photo album. This plan worked beautifully. Not doing my usual work make me relaxed, and having one irksome chore gave me the delicious feeling of goofing off – except when I actually did make myself do it. And I did get that task crossed off my list, which was enormously satisfying.
5. Everyone’s happiness project is different. (This is related to #1-2.) I met a very nice guy who described to me how he’d fulfilled his lifelong dream of buying a farm, where he’s raising some organic crops as well as pigs, cows, and I believe, goats. He was beaming with delight as he described how much he loved every aspect of it. I can think of few things that would make me feel more miserable than having a farm like his. Happiness projects just don’t look the same.
On a less elevated note, I would add that if you’re traveling with children, it never hurts to pack a few items of novelty candy for a long car ride. That, and a Harry Potter audiobook, will take you a long way.
* This article on Slate, Seeking: How the Brain Hard-Wires Us to Love Google, Twitter, and Texting, and Why That’s Dangerous, is absolutely fascinating. I think it has all sorts of happiness implications, but I haven’t quite figured out what they are yet.
* Because I've been on vacation, it's been at least a few days since I mentioned that the book The Happiness Project is coming out in a few months. Yes, it's true! Order early and often. (But seriously: if you're inclined to buy the book, pre-orders really give a boost to a book. The early show of enthusiasm makes a big difference, so I really appreciate it.)