Why is it that vacations make us feel good? And why do we remember them so vividly?
There’s a lot to unpack in those two questions, so sit back and let’s explore what’s going on.
Normal life seems dull
Before we can understand why vacations feel so special, we need to dig into how the mind normally operates.
If you’ve taken my Meditation Boot Camp, you’ll understand that the mind is a phenomenal problem solver, but due to its nature, it tends to view most of our experiences as problems that need solving.
“The grass is always greener.”
Familiarity with our surroundings and the routine of normal everyday life mean that we rarely look at the details of our world. We look but we don’t see. So this gives our minds plenty of time to create stories and invent problems.
When we’re operating in this distracted mode, removed from our actual environment, daydreaming about how things could be better, our current world seems dull and uninteresting (non existent). It feels like a problem.
So even the thought of getting away from it all seems exciting.
A vacation and the process of planning a vacation seems like a glorious prize. A reward. It solves the problem of the monotony of our existence. The future is going to be amazing.
New location, new experiences
The thing about going on vacation is that it usually involves a location or experiences that we are not familiar with.
So driving down the street in a new town becomes a joy as we look at the different architecture. Notice different plants. Different mailboxes. Even the clouds look different.
We have become naturally “mindful”. We are “present” in our new surroundings.
This means that our mind is not thinking of the past or dreaming of the future. All of our attention is on what’s happening right now.
We become aware of how vibrant life is. Each doorway you see is new. It calls for you to look at it.
Can you tell me what color your neighbors mailbox is? You’ve probably passed it quite a few times.
When you become present, what naturally arises is a state of joy. This is, and should be, your natural state.
When your mind thinks of the past or future, it is usually driven by fear of some sort, your natural survival instinct trying to keep you alive. But when you’re “present”, bliss, joy and excitement become the norm.
Stress simply cannot exist in that state.
When you’re out exploring your vacation destination, you tend to eat when you’re hungry and tend to sleep when you’re tired.
You become much more aware of your body. Instead of eating because that’s what you always do, you eat because you feel your stomach growling.
Unless you have to get up early for an excursion, or to catch a train, you often don’t use an alarm clock on vacation. You wake naturally as the sunlight fills the room and the sounds of the environment gently wake you.
The room, the sounds are all new to you, so you wake with energy to figure out what those sensations are. The birds sound different. The traffic sounds different.
Your senses are alive.
You try new things
New foods. New activities.
Food is one of the things that tends to get a little monotonous in our lives. Taco Tuesday, Pasta Thursday. Every family has a list of go-to dishes that become somewhat of a routine. We are drawn to what we know we will enjoy.
Even eating out at restaurants, we usually go to the same restaurants and eat the same things we’ve had in the past even though everything on the menu looks good.
So we tend to just eat without really paying close attention to the taste or even how full we are getting. I’m eating the same dish I had in the past. I know what it tastes like, nothing bad happened the last time I ate it. Now I can concentrate on worrying about my laundry while I eat instead of tasting each mouthful.
However, when you’re on vacation, even familiar dishes might be prepared slightly differently, or the local ingredients taste slightly different.
Again, our senses light up as we enjoy each new taste. We pay close attention to each mouthful. We are once again, mindful and present.
Sunlight, fresh air
On vacation we are generally more active than we are at home. You might not go to the gym on vacation, but you generally do a lot more walking and moving your body through simple activity.
It seems like the length of the activity, not the intensity of the activity has a more noticeable effect on our wellbeing.
Four hours walking around a museum, beach, city or forest seem to feed our soul much more than one hour inside a gym.
This prolonged activity usually gives us a lot of outdoor time. That’s time receiving energy from the sun and breathing fresh air. Probably a lot more outdoor time than your 9-5 job, gym, shopping lifestyle affords you.
Barefoot on the beach
I also heard a very interesting theory about how we walk barefoot much more when we’re on vacation. Especially on the beach.
That gives you such a great connection to the earth, connecting you directly to the planet.
It literally leaves you feeling grounded and helps to open up your Chakras.
The other thing about walking barefoot is that you usually pay a lot more attention to where you’re putting your feet to avoid stepping on something sharp or unpleasant.
So again, you’re being naturally mindful without even realizing it.
Probably the best way to become present would be to walk barefoot through a room with thumb tacks on the floor, or a child’s bedroom littered with Lego bricks.
Turn every day into a vacation
So hopefully you have become aware that vacations quiet the mind simply by being naturally mindful. They force you to be present. They force you to read road signs, study maps, inspect objects you’ve never seen before. Taste new tastes. Smell new smells. Hear new hears, no wait, sounds.
Vacations are relaxing and invigorating because you are getting a break from your mind. You are present. Your mind is off (hopefully a lot).
If you focus all of your attention on the task you’re doing, your mind will be still. It won’t be digging into the past to see where you went wrong and it won’t be fantasizing about the future to see how everything can be better.
Your everyday actions can become very exciting when you give them your full attention.
When you’re washing dishes. Pretend it’s the first time you’ve ever seen a plate. Feel the weight. Study the pattern. See how the light shines off it. What sound does it make when you wash it or place it in the drying rack? Then pick up the next dish and do exactly the same.
Even the most repetitive tasks can be enlightening.
When you drive down your street, pay attention to the mailboxes. The sound of your tires. Pretend you’ve never driven down the street before. Pretend you’ve never sat in your car before. Every aspect of the things we do is fascinating when you give them your full attention.
If you can bring that natural curiosity and mindfulness into your every day actions, you will soon realize that every second of your waking life is as exciting, relaxing and joyous as the best vacation. You just never realized it.
The grass is always greener on the other side………unless you look closely at the grass beneath your feet. Each blade is a different shape, length, color, and I dare say no two blades of grass are the same.
Enjoy your daily vacation. Take a well earned break from your mind.