(Laura’s note: this is a guest post of mine that ran on I Should Log Off, the blog of Danny and Jillian Tobias. Alert readers will recognize them from ATM as the couple that spent two years traveling the world).
Here’s something I find fun: a massage.
Here’s something I don’t find fun: spending the first night of a vacation in a half-flooded roadside motel in the Catskills that’s lost power and plumbing due to Hurricane Irene. My family (my husband, 7.5-months pregnant me, my 4-year-old and almost 2-year-old) is stuck there because downed trees and flood-buckled bridges have shut all the roads.
Yet if you ask me about my road trip to Maine right before Labor Day this past year, I’d say the trip was “great.” We did have lots of fun in Acadia after the hurricane fiasco, but I think the tracks laid down in my brain by the initial nightmare heightened the whole experience. I view the trip as something I will remember my entire life.
Whereas I don’t remember my last massage. Looking back on my life, I think I’ll be happier if I’ve had more memorable experiences, rather than fewer.
Call it the paradox of happiness. Things that make you happy in retrospect are not always fun to live through. I’ve been thinking about that lesson as I try to figure out what to do with my small children for our vacations over the next few years. Traveling with small kids is not easy. There’s all the stuff you wind up packing, the eternal hunt for hotels with cribs, eating in restaurants when your kids want to crawl on the floor, the constant need for bathrooms. Plus I’m not even sure they’ll remember what we do! It would be easier — and certainly more immediately pleasurable — to just hang out at home and spend the money on shoes.
But the experiencing self is not necessarily the best judge of what is good in life. If it was, we’d never do anything but watch TV. We might want to have sex, but that would involve going out and finding someone to do it with — and that takes more effort than turning on the TV. A better judge is the remembering self — the self that looks back on what has happened, creates a narrative arc and passes judgment on all things in context. The remembering self likes a good story. And travel with kids is sure to produce them.
That’s why, even if some travel isn’t immediately “fun,” I still think it’s a good use of money. It buys happiness — just not in the way one might assume.
photo courtesy flickr user Gary Brownell