Fun-Filled and Full-filled Vacations
By Bob and Judith Wright
Whether you’re preparing for a trip, a weekend away, or a night on the town, you’re probably imagining the food, fun, and fabulous experiences you’re about to have as you “escape” from it all—dreaming about getting away from the humdrum of everyday life.
But is “wanting to escape” or “getting away from it all” a meaningful vacation mentality?
This “third third” of our lives is a time of huge opportunity, but few of us really go about living it as fully as we could. Most of us don’t realize that this could be the very best time of our lives—not just to kick back and rest, but a time to capitalize on all we’ve done in our lives to this point, a time to harvest our experience and to leverage our gifts, to contribute to the world around us, and to experience the most meaning and fulfillment.
Some people retire and focus only on the lives of their grandchildren. Others travel, gamble, golf, or look for endless sources of entertainment to escape—hopping from cruise to cruise and experience to experience as diversions from “real life.”
This “third third” of our lives is a time of huge opportunity, but few of us really go about living it as fully as we could.
When we look at the core purpose of vacation and recreation, it’s about rejuvenation and renewal. The word vacation is derived from “vacate”—to be empty, free. It means release, leisure, or devotion to a special purpose. Recreation means to restore to life—to refresh by recreating oneself.
That’s a pretty big shift from the zone-out, pig-out, overscheduled entertainment many of us seek. So, the first question we should be asking isn’t where we plan to go or what we want to do, but WHY. “WHY” gives our travel and activities meaning. What is the purpose of our experience and how does it align with our larger life vision?
Give Up the Bucket List
A few years back, a student of ours was planning a vacation. At the same time, he was also studying for a licensure exam and weighing the merits of his long-term relationship. Despite his full plate, he decided to look at the vacation for its real purpose: an opportunity to connect with himself and his significant other, to spend time studying in an uninterrupted environment, and to rest.
In the mornings, he awoke and studied. In the afternoons, he spent quality time engaging with his girlfriend. In the evening, he exercised, took more time to study, and then spent the later part of the evening again with his girlfriend. After his five-day break, he felt refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to get his licensure. Not only was he ready for his exam, he felt ready for the next big step in his life—he asked his girlfriend to marry him! His vacation wasn’t about getting away—it was about going toward. He was able to have a more complete, fulfilling experience because he approached it with purpose. He saw it as the best vacation he’d ever had—with the most positive results for his life.
Going into leisure time with a greater purpose gives us focus.
Our time needs to be spent on meaningful activities—not simply things we feel we’re supposed to do because that’s what the itinerary says. Rather than creating great memories, we focus on creating great realities—where we’re touched deeply, and we reconnect, learn, and grow.
When we return to our “regular lives,” we should find them enhanced. After our leisure time, we’re ready to bring more of ourselves back to our daily lives, whether through shifts in our perspectives, a deeper sense of purpose, or by applying our self-discoveries and things we’ve learned. Leisure time should be an opportunity for enriching our lives and the lives we touch, holding each other more deeply in our hearts.
Often vacations and leisure time are spent with family. Think more deeply about your family visits. When you visit your adult children and grandchildren, do you try to connect with them about their interests? Do you really get to know them—what they care about, what they value, what they feel and think? If you’re visiting a college student, do you take an interest in what they’re learning and studying? When you look for a souvenir to send to them, is it something that really interests them?
If your kids or grandkids are studying sociology, literature, or economics, do you make an effort to learn about these topics? If we’re truly living our best lives, we should constantly seek new endeavors and new experiences to connect us. Not only so we connect and engage with our children and grandchildren, but so we enrich and find meaning in our own lives as well. Follow their example to become curious and playful. Embrace life-long learning.
Purpose and conscious intent helps you get more out of your travel and entertainment—and your life.
A few years ago, the “bucket list” concept became popular. Many people love the idea of having a to-do list we tick off as we go. We indulge in the experience so we can check it off our life list, share the photos on social media, and add a wine label to our scrapbook. It’s more about the list than the experience itself. But are we really engaged?
A better question for us to ask ourselves is, what value are we generating in the world? What am I getting out of what I’m doing? What am I contributing? If we’re visiting grandchildren, are we losing ourselves in our grandkids? Or are we developing our transgenerational family culture through growing, learning, and living lives of meaning and service?
Thinking about why we’re doing what we’re doing leads us to ask bigger questions like: How can I live this day more purposefully? How can I derive more meaning and fulfillment in my life? What’s the purpose of our vacation?
Sound like a tall order for your weekend trip to the Cape? It might be. It might also be one of the most rejuvenating experiences you’ve ever had!
Engaging, Not Zoning Out
When we consider vacation and entertainment, we can look at it as a chance to get away and zone out OR a chance to zone in. Take for example, a night out to the symphony or a musical performance. We can sit in a theater and wait to passively be entertained or we can do our homework beforehand and deepen our experience.
A musical performance is a great opportunity to study the composer, learn more about the music being performed, and listen to the lyrics and find connections to what you’re hearing, drawing parallels to your own life. Listen with an open heart and mind and let the music really flow into your unconscious.
Purpose and conscious intent helps you get more out of your travel and entertainment—and your life. Rather than just being a passive tourist, observe and find ways to delve more deeply into the experience or the place.
When the two of us travel together, the experiences we look forward to often relate to spirituality. Because this is such a strong area of interest for the two of us, we plan to visit spiritual places—monasteries, cathedrals, synagogues, and other places of worship. We often attend spiritual services to give us a lens into the culture we’re visiting, rather than simply observing as passersby. We soak up holy and iconic art, listen to musical performances, and immerse ourselves in a 360-degree experience. We have been so blessed to visit with spiritual teachers and spiritual communities all over the world, learning from others how they orient to what is most meaningful to them, and being inspired by their devotion, worship, and practices. We bring that inspiration back into our daily lives. We see our travel more as a pilgrimage, learning to live life as a sacred journey.
Finding Your WHY
We all yearn to learn and grow, to matter, to connect, to love and be loved, to make a difference. However, if we don’t consciously engage in activities to meet these yearnings, we often unconsciously slip into soft addictions. In our book, The Soft Addiction Solution, we delve into the many ways “entertainment” can become destructive rather than constructive. Spending hours on social media, shopping to fulfill a void, watching television until you pass out on the couch—these aren’t activities that bring us fulfillment or joy.
Instead, we habitually use these activities to numb us from reality. We’re trying to fill the void or attempting to connect, but not in any way that really feeds us or fulfills us. These soft addictions put us in a foggy state, in which we don’t engage or think clearly. We’re distracted, distanced from our loved ones, and less productive because we’re focused on activities that don’t fulfill a greater purpose. On the other hand, if we are purposefully doing things that have meaning, that make us feel more alive and more present, and if we are learning and growing and contributing, life becomes far more fulfilling.
It all comes back to the question of why.
Why are we taking this vacation? Why are we going to this performance? Why do we want to see this film, visit this museum, or attend this event?
One great technique is to set a purpose, principle or a theme for each activity—don’t be afraid to declare it aloud!
The purpose of this weekend is to connect with my husband.
The theme of this trip to the park with my grandkids is ‘adventure.’
The principle of this afternoon is to relax and refresh—to “reboot” myself.
And yes, relaxing is an important part of leisure time. When we’re stressed out and frazzled, instead of packing in MORE activity into our schedule, we may need to include less. But rather than just collapsing or zoning out, we can choose to consciously focus on relaxation as a chance to restore ourselves. The important key is to engage in activities that fulfill, rather than drain us. We may be working under the misconception that our soft addictions will bring us more satisfaction. We view a Netflix binge as a way to relax…but if we’re doing it without a sense of purpose, we may end up feeling even worse than when we started.
Instead, we find greater calm and relaxation by skipping the mind-numbing routines. So let’s add more nourishing activities, plan more soul-filling moments, and spend more genuine time with ourselves and our loved ones so we can realize just how truly satisfying life can be.
Rather than being a blip in our year or another postcard in the scrapbook, our vacations and entertainment can positively impact the rest of our lives. We’ll feel rested, revitalized, and more deeply connected to each other and ourselves.
So throw away the bucket list. Stop over-planning your next trip. Find your WHY and get more purpose out of your fun!
Discovering, learning, and growing in all our experiences helps us find greater fulfillment. For more on living a life of purpose and meaning, please visit www.wrightfoundation.org.