Your Vacation Begins Here

 “Run out onto the dock and look up at the tree to the north!”, some strangers called to us from their boat on Pine Lake. We did as we were told. We were astounded to see a huge bald eagle surveying the lake and forest. A beautiful moment in a beautiful getaway weekend. Do you have plans this summer for vacation? A few days away enjoying the company of family or friends? Lying on the beach for a week? Spending a month in the north woods hiking?

A recent article in the ‘Science of Us’ column in New York Magazine outlined a philosophy I adopted years ago, inspired by my friend Michelle Snyder. She once said, “I’ve decided to put my money into creating experiences, not into things.” I began by letting go of ’stuff’, becoming more aware of what I bought, and being deliberate about where I did put my money. One of those ‘deliberately important experiences’ was vacation and travel.

We all know the relaxation value of vacations. Getting away, leaving all the demands of daily life behind — housework, paying bills, mowing the lawn, going to work. A chance to re-charge. But there is another very important, hidden value to vacations too.

Dr. Amit Kumar does research on the relationship between money and happiness, specifically the distinction between experiential and material purchases (that is, money spent on doing—e.g., on vacations and concerts—versus money spent on having—e.g., on clothing and gadgets). As he described in the magazine article, he “investigates how experiential purchases promote enhanced anticipatory pleasure, provide hedonic benefits through utility derived from storytelling, and also have downstream consequences in terms of fostering social connectedness and prosocial behavior.”

In essence what Dr. Kumar says the research shows is that an experience, like that of a vacation, lasts much longer than the week bookended by weekends scheduled on your calendar. You anticipate and imagine beforehand, and then later on when you have returned you can reminisce and share stories with others. You get to re-live the landscape of your time away from it all because it is stored in your memory bank. Even if the vacation was a disaster, you still receive some benefits and pleasure from the re-telling around the office cooler, the social connectedness and prosocial behavior that Dr. Kumar was talking about. The whole spectrum of experience is richer than the purchase of an expensive gadget.

A vacation is not simply a concrete period of time of leisure, but rather something you will talk and think about  for years after the fact. Even though the vacation can seem fleeting —  vacations seem to come and go in a flash — you are creating a long term adventure that can last a lifetime. And the benefits can be satisfying even if the airline loses your luggage. Bon voyage!

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