Planning for peak experiences

I know, as an adult, it’s not cool to be all excited about a birthday. You’re supposed to play it down, mourn your advancing age, etc. Well, I say hooey. I really like celebrating my birthday. It gives me an opportunity to plan fun stuff ahead of time. Studies of happiness find that the anticipation of enjoyable experiences makes them even more enjoyable. And planning things, personally, is a good way to make sure they happen.

I suspected this before writing 168 Hours. When my husband and I turned 40 and 30 in the same year, we reached an agreement that we would both be responsible for our own celebrations. That way, we would each get the party we wanted. He planned a dinner for his siblings and mom at a nice restaurant. I held a cooking party at the Institute for Culinary Education. Since I had to book the party several weeks in advance, I got to savor the idea of it for quite a while.

I’m not doing anything big for my birthday this Sunday (I’m turning 32, not exactly a milestone), but in keeping with what I learned from writing 168 Hours, I’m trying to plan lots of smaller, fun things to still make a great few days of peak experiences. I have some anchor events: dinner out with my husband on Friday night, my choir concert on Saturday night (at Smokey Mary’s in Times Square at 8pm — see here for tickets), and my parents will be in town for the weekend. I’m trying to plan in some other fun stuff: a massage, possibly a trip to the train show at the NY Botanical Gardens. Maybe I’ll hit an art museum too.

A birthday gives me a reason to inject lots of fun into my life, but of course it doesn’t have to be one’s birthday to have a fun few days. One of the chapters of my next book is going to be about consciously choosing to spend on experiences (rather than stuff). I’d love to write about a few people who design some peak days, and how the experience felt. Let me know if you’re up for it!

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8 thoughts on “Planning for peak experiences

  1. Totally agree. It takes a bit more work but for example I am determined to do something fun and bigger — like a day outing with my daughter and husband between now and February when her sibling is born… (her last days as an only child)

    so I’ve planned a trip to the aquarium and some other things, including just some Sundays visiting friends with kids the same age. On the gift card argument — if it is the right gift card — for example Spafinder — and you get one you get to anticipate all the massages you are going to get with it.

    Also if you’ve planned it ahead of time it is harder to back out as happens so much with young kids or work commitments or just general lack of enthusiasm.

  2. I definitely agree about going all out in celebrating birthdays as an adult! I’ve always loved birthdays; why should growing older be any different? Who needs a better reason to get together with your favorite people, do your favorite things and celebrating all that is you? 🙂

  3. I love to celebrate my birthday too. It’s a time to reflect on what I’ve done, and what I plan to do for the next year (kind of like the Christmas letter)

    my sister-in-law has always taken the day off on her birthday–whether is was school or work! an even more valuable commodity now that she has kids and a full-time job.

    You can’t beat the anticipation of fun experiences. It makes them even greater, which is why you shouldn’t leave them to chance.

  4. One of my best birthdays ever was entirely experiential and also entirely unplanned, when I ended up in Paris on my birthday with most of a beautiful, warm, sunny day to kill in between trains. Usually when I find myself at a loose end for a few hours in a major city, I’ll either go on another London Walk to explore more neighborhoods (if I’m in London) or visit a museum I haven’t been to yet. But much as I like art, and as many more museums as there are in Paris that I still haven’t seen even after many visits, it was just too gorgeous a day to be indoors. I had birthday plans with friends that evening, but until then I was all on my own, so I checked my luggage at the train station and spent the rest of the day just wandering around spontaneously going, doing, and trying wherever and whatever appealed to me. I didn’t really “do” anything–unless you count sunbathing on a park bench, sampling street food, window shopping, and half-hearted attempts at writing postcards and reading. I just lived in the moment, soaking up my surroundings. But I’ve never spent a birthday like that before or since, so it still stands out in my mind as one of my best ever.

    1. @Gwen: sounds like fun! But of course, having a few unplanned solo hours on a sunny Paris afternoon is a bit different than having a few unplanned hours on a random Sunday in December with two little kids. We’d just wind up watching Dora. That’s why I have to plan!

  5. I agree with spending discretionary money on experiences more than stuff. We are fortunate enough to be able to cover all of our needs with my husband’s salary. My priority is to be a mom and traditional “home-maker” but I do have a couple of home-based businesses and I occasionally do part-time consulting work. Although my husband originally wanted my income to go directly into our regular account just for “more cushion”, I was not willing to take time away from the family just so we can spend more money at Target – which is exactly where it would go. I insisted that the money I earn go directly into a separate savings account dedicated to family travel so we can afford to take some big trips or act on special travel opportunities. Having this money already set aside and earmarked allows us to spend it without feeling like we are choosing between a vacation and a project on the house or between plane tickets for the whole family to visit friends and savings for a big purchase. For a family with young kids, we travel a lot and I cherish every moment from every penny I’ve earned.

    1. @Sarah – that’s wonderful that you have a separate account for experiences. I think this is an issue – we always feel that we are weighing experiences against other “needs” and so it becomes hard to spend for them. For some reason, having separate accounts helps with that psychological barrier. Even if money is completely transferrable…

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