“It gives me a feeling of self-sufficiency, a feeling of attachment to the land and to the world, I kind of oneness with the universe. That tie, that link, that connection is all we have. Without it, we are lost.”
– Marty Stouffer, host of Wild Kingdom
On living in harmony with nature
The happiness value of our vacations is sinking, according to comparison research. A 2004 study found that vacations increased “happiness in vacation-goers, but they found the effect to be small” yet a 2010 “found no significant differences in happiness levels between a group of adults who went on vacation and those who did not.” (Grohol, 2010)
My wife, following our camping “vacation” two years ago, would have agreed. It rained the entire time, the heat was an Amazonian 90 degrees with maximum humidity, and the wet chilled us at night. There were fun parts, I often protested, but even I felt we could have done better.
I have a basis of comparison, though, and a deep love of camping, because of many childhood tent-living adventures. I yearned to share that with the two women I loved most, and returning home like so much sodden Shredded Wheat after two days of momentary fun lost in a mire of suck, was not the way.
For me, camping always was a way to recharge. I planned for many weeks to give them the same experience and found, along the way, that I was the one in most need. Here is our story.
Every Trip is a Fresh Start
Key to the beginning of any new experience, but also any new camping experience, is to learn from the last one while seeing the present one as a fresh start. When one is trying to gain maximum value from any experience, let alone a vacation, going into it with a fresh attitude will increase the present value by allowing the experience to be rated and retained on its own merit.
Your time is precious and rare since America—though leading the world in many ways—is behind the rest of the world in the Vacation Race; “the average employee is granted 13 paid days off [but] 34 percent of Americans don’t use all of their vacation time, ‘giving back’ an average of three days each year.” (Lund, 2011) Much of the reason people don’t take all of their vacation time, according to both Lund and Grohol, is because of an unbalanced view of the need for work versus the retained fun of past vacations.
I’m here to say that you need vacations as much as work and that fun can be found as long as you approach it the right way. Camping is the example I’m using, but it could easily be applied to any get-away.
An Exercise in Essentials
I love American Pickers. Yes, the guys are characters, but I love when they literally wade through all the piled useless crap of someone’s life and rise with a gem. I’ve already made the case that we have too much stuff. Camping, more than any other vacation, forces a re-evaluation of all that stuff in terms of space you can carry, problems you may face and value of an item. You then are left with only your most valuable assets. I always let the process teach me, and I urge you to do the same. You may find your life more focused and streamlined as a result, thus increasing long-term happiness.
Re-evaluating out digital crap pile is a way to increase your happiness in the moment. We immediately made the rule of no computer, laptop, Kindle or TV. The rest was more insidious and personal. I, like many others, am always on the social media. However, Caron Leader, a partner and psychotherapist at aha! (Architects of Human Awareness), said that the best way to enjoy any vacation more is to “Get off the grid.”
B-but, my Smartphone!
“Breaking news,” she asserted “Your Facebook, e-mail, and LinkedIn accounts will be just fine if you log off for a week or two…turn off gadgets and don’t allow yourself access to them.” (Lund, 2011)
A week or two! That didn’t happen in a weekend getaway, and still may be a little much, but I did limit cell contact—partially due to the fact that connectivity turned my smart phone into a half wit—and was pleasantly surprised. I liked it. I was in the moment more after the initial frustration wore off.
Right tool for the Job
“Ow! That’s not it! Bring me the Hydrospanner! I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this one.”
-Han Solo, Star Wars
Dr. John Grohol supports Leader’s insistence that increasing focus on the getaway increases the fun. “Actually be on vacation while on vacation,” he said. “We spend so much time on automatic pilot or not really spending much conscious thought on being in the moment, it helps to really stop, think, and experience the moment you’re in. Especially while on vacation.” (Grohol, 2010)
Fully “experiencing the moment” when presented with some of camping’s challenges, with all our stuff winnowed down to the essentials, we find that our very minds are tools that we haven’t fully been able to use due to the mental clutter of our daily life. In this moment our minds become the ultimate “right tool for the job” of our lives.
“Adversity, and perseverance and all these things can shape you. They can give you a value and a self-esteem that is priceless.”
-Scott Hamilton, Olympic Gold Medal Figure Skater
According to the Chicago Tribune “excessive job-related stress…costs American businesses $344 billion a year in medical bills, absenteeism, turnover, and training” much of which is due to the unbalanced perception of our need for work over need for vacation. This is further compounded by the spatial and mental clutter which can cloud our judgment, lower our perception of our own value and increase our stress even more.
Now take camping. In our example so far, by getting away from our norm we’ve returned to primal needs: Food, shelter, air, water and fire. To meet those needs we’ve packed and planned ahead and have found our own minds are also assets. Our stress drops dramatically when life looks balanced like this:
(re-prioritized) ASSETS+ABILITIES = NEEDS
And what rushes in to fill that stress-void? Sustenance. We have time. Time to sit, time to reflect and most of all, time to disconnect from the busy, digital world and reconnect with ourselves, our God or our loved ones—who often are sitting within arms reach feeling the same way.
Peace is the Mother of Invention
“Americans…as a culture do not value down time or relaxing.
There is a perception that if one is relaxing, they are lazy.”
-Caron Leader, Psychotherapist
Let’s take that equation one step further and apply it. See that photo above, it’s a step by step plan of how to make a string and stick paper towel holder for a cleaning station. Why? Because we needed one and I had sticks, string, a Swiss Army Knife and a newfound love of my own brain.
We live in an over-engineered society—I wouldn’t change it, I like my comfort—but that engineering removes the chance to solve simple daily problems with our own ingenuity instead of a trip to the dollar store. This lowers our chances for simple accomplishments and a sense of purpose, which causes many turn from vacations. “What typically occurs when [people] try to turn away from work is a sense of loss of purpose or meaning,” Leader said. “They simply feel lost without this preoccupation in their lives and use it to avoid other issues within themselves.”
Think of that; avoiding vacation because it affords the time to stop, face yourself, and build a towel rack. Excuse me, a cleaning station. That build was less important to the world than my job, but I felt a sense of pride, purpose and accomplishment every time I used a towel—double when my family did.
Live the Memories, like Batteries
“I’m taking them back. I’m taking them all back.”
-Mouth (Clark Devereaux), The Goonies
Yes, it rained again. It poured hard Sunday morning for a few hours, to the degree that I made breakfast in a rain coat. But, my assets (camp stove and rain coat) + my ability (breakfast wizardry) met our needs and we had a grand time. Then the sun came out, my kid played in puddles and we built more memories.
That’s the point. “Memories last forever,” said Dr. Grohol, “Vacations can increase happiness long-term if you have positive experiences that in turn create positive memories[that] you’ll store in your mind the rest of your life” and any event can be a positive memory—even slightly soggy Scrapple—if it increases your feeling of self sufficiency, like Marty Stouffer, self esteem, like Scott Hamilton or love of yourself, each other and the natural world, like us wacky Karabins. (Grohol, 2010)
Pair down your stuff. Disconnect or decrease your connection to the digital. Unclutter your mind. Solve simple problems. Reconnect to yourself and your loves. Go camping.
You’ll love it, too.
Grohol, J. (2010). Does Happiness Follow on Vacation?. Psych Central. Retrieved from: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/02/22/does-happiness-follow-on-vacation/
Lund, K. (2011) The Psychology of Vacation. Evansville Business. Retrieved from: http://www.evansvilleliving.com/business/articles/the-psychology-of-vacation