With the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day, many await summer with angst. The children will finally be off from school. Summer hours will kick in and our workloads might even lighten a bit. We bask in the excitement of the warm weather to come and count the days to that big trip we’ve been planning. Sound familiar? I’m sure. It’s a common experience, shared by many Americans.
In fact, an estimated 45% of us take our vacations during the summer months. The bulk of them are in July and last about a week. Where do we visit? Well, its reported that most of our summer vacations carry us into the seas and sights of other states within our great nation. The beaches of Florida and California; the monuments of DC and New York; the inspiring landscapes of our Midwest and interesting food, music and culture of each region, all make for an exciting summer getaway. But perhaps even more important than the “whens” and “wheres” of these trips are the “whys” and “hows.”
We vacation because we want to be happy and we believe that trading our stressors for a change of scenery might actually help us get there. We think of summer vacations as an opportunity to escape the norm — a chance to run away from the struggles and stresses of the everyday. We expect it will rejuvenate and reenergize us for the months to come; or at least, we hope.
But does it? In actuality, research shows that most people are happier while planning and awaiting their vacations than they are during or after them. That’s right. As it turns out, for most of us, the anticipation is actually better than the execution. Specifically, most people who vacation are happiest in the eight weeks preceding their vacations, but show no increase in joy (from their usual level) during or after their trips… With one exception. Research participants who reported that their vacation was “very relaxing” (not just “relaxing,” but very) showed an increase in happiness before, during and after their vacation!
So that seems to be the key. Only by enjoying a “very relaxing” vacation, can you use a trip to help maximize your happiness year-round. Now the question is, how do you make your vacation very relaxing? The answer: Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is defined as “a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.” Scientific studies show that mindfulness can boost your working memory, increase your ability to focus and lessen emotional reactivity. It also helps your mind be more open to change, increases relationship satisfaction and enhances self-insight, morality and intuition. It helps you to modulate fear, strengthens your immune system’s functioning, reduces psychological distress and increases the speed at which you process information. Need more reasons to try it? While on vacation, mindfulness can make a true difference between feeling stressed and being happy, by keeping you aware of your environment moment-to-moment.
So, on your next trip, make a commitment to stay in the moment you’ve created for yourself. I know how challenging this can prove, particularly since more than half of Americans spend a great deal of their vacation time working. But you have to give yourself permission to truly be on vacation. This means allowing yourself the time, the space and the mental clarity to take in the richness of a new and different environment. This means that your mind is not in the business meeting that’s happening at the office or busy fixing the life of a family member who won’t stop texting. This means that your mind is in the same place as your body, enjoying every sensation and focused on each new experience. You’re not caught up in the timeline posts of every “friend” on social media or in the “what ifs,” “what nows,” or what fors,” of life’s most recent events. You’re not living in the anxiety of what you might be going back to or in the regret of things you didn’t get to do before you left. Instead, you just are where you are. You are when you are. You are engulfed in the beauty of that place and in the splendor of that moment.
Being mindful on vacation means holding to your awareness of all that is grand around you and within you. Some easy ways to stay mindful on vacation, include:
- Sensory Stimulation — Smell the crispness of every tree. Hear the different harmony of each song sung by every bird. Taste the earthiness in your food’s spices. Enjoy every view different from what you’re used to and run your fingers through the sand of those beaches or the water of that hotel shower, thinking only about how it feels to your skin. Let your senses be overwhelmed by all that this environment has to offer you.
- Meditation — Guided mindfulness meditations are available via apps on your smartphone. These can be great ways to pull your awareness back to the here and now. Take 5-10 minutes each day to be present in your body, in your space without the ambush of the thoughts in your mind.
- Sketching — You don’t have to consider yourself an artist to take advantage of art’s benefits. The simple task of sitting to sketch will force your attention to the present. Sketching your environment on vacation will pull you into the details of what surrounds you and allow you to see things in ways that you may not have otherwise.
- Beauty Listing — Make lists of 25 beautiful things around you, at least two times per day. It’s better on paper, but certainly still helpful should you instead choose to do it in your mind. This will help you stay fixated on the grandness and wellness available to you through your current environment.
- New Experiences — Trying new things pushes us out of our comfort zones. We feel compelled to pay close attention to what we’re doing in order to learn and master the task. This makes it more difficult to become distracted by all the mental noise we tend to carry around. So, try some new activities while on vacation (water sports, dance classes) to take your thinking and your living outside of the box. Then congratulate yourself for being so brave and relax into the joy you feel.
This summer, be sure to practice mindfulness while on vacation. You’ll intensify your relaxation, maximize your joy, revitalize your spirit and enjoy all that the change of environment has to offer.