Even storm clouds and crying babies can't dim the glow of a getaway if you follow sometimes-counterintuitive strategies—all part of the growing field of positive psychology. Gretchen Rubin has attempted to put into practice the insights of positive psychology, and she recounts the story in her new book, The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. We spoke with her recently to find out a few things she's learned from traveling with her husband and two young daughters.
Trip Rx: Pack almonds or another healthy snack. For example, Rubin was recently away with her family and in-laws on an annual vacation. Despite the fact that this place is lovely, she ended up feeling a bit crabby. It wasn't the company that got her down. It was because her vacation schedule had thrown off her diet, and the change in her blood sugar levels affected her mood. Says Rubin: "Being on this vacation means I'm often starving before we eat. I can't eat as often as I would like. The food is richer than the food I usually eat, but somehow it doesn't seem as filling." So now Rubin brings a couple of packages of almonds, and other snacks, to help even out her diet—and moods.
Pack early. "I make the odious task easier by starting a week in advance (my husband packs at 10 p.m. the night before we leave). I bring the big suitcase into my bedroom, and whenever I think of something (sunscreen, passports, adapter) I put it in."
Trip Rx: "Your PDA is a great tool but a poor master," says Rubin. Use it for what it does best: Make reservations, check the weather forecast, get directions. Then power it down, and focus on savoring your surroundings. Or just on chilling out.
Return a day early. "It's no fun to go away for a relaxing week, but then find yourself stressed out again a few hours after you're back at home. Give yourself a day to sleep late, do errands, catch up on mail and email, re-stock the fridge, etc. The re-entry day makes the trip shorter, but it makes the overall vacation experience more enjoyable."
Unpack right away. "My husband is adamant about this. The last thing I feel like doing when we arrive home from a week away is to tackle the unpacking, but he's right, we both feel much better when we've put that task behind us. It makes it a lot easier to unwind and enjoy being home."
Writer Robert Firpo-Cappiello interviewed a dozen scientists and researchers to find out other tips on how to have a happier vacation. Check out his article: Get Psyched.
The Happiness Project blog has more details on Rubin's fascinating experiment and her easy-to-read, inspiring book.
Feel free to chime in with your own tips!