You may recall that I recently wrote about daydream destinations. Daydream destinations are the places we wish we were. It could be a house in the middle of a river where no one can bother you. It could be a beachfront bar on a white sand beach somewhere in the Caribbean or even a WiFi-free dairy farm in the middle of the German Mountains. The daydream destination is that impossible place you can’t actually get to but you go to in your mind when you need a break from the challenges of work and life. It’s where you wish you were no matter how fantastical. That’s not what I’m discussing today.
Life can be challenging. Even if you have a great job, a good relationship, and cash in the bank you’re going to have good days and bad days. That’s life. Unfortunately, more often than not the job isn’t great, there are ups and downs in your personal life (especially during child rearing years) and most of us don’t have nearly enough cash in the bank. In short, life is difficult more than it’s fun for the majority of people. The daydream destination fills the needs for the immediate escape, the momentary reset, or emotional caffeine rush you need to get you through to the next moment. But sometimes you need a stronger refresh, an escape that lasts hours or days. It’s at those times you need a happy place, which IS what i’m discussing today.
What a Happy Place Is NOT!
A happy place usually can’t be the destination vacation. The cruise, the theme park, the tourist trap city (I’m looking at you Gatlinburg), those are all unique experiences. They can even be fun if done in moderation but they aren’t really happy, or maybe I should say happiness-inducing. The problem with these types of packaged experienced is that generally there is a rush of activity associated with them. If you’re on the cruise ships you have the dance contest, dressing up for the formal nights and the shore excursions. The list of distractions is endless, which is absolutely one of the reasons why cruises are considered such a great value. Theme parks are the same thing. Most folks push as hard as they can every day to see as much as possible. The theme parks and other canned vacations are usually very expensive and limited in some way which incentivizes higher levels of activity engagement. If you got kids and you’re doing Disney, you typically have one day to hit Space Mountain for the boy, watch the Princess Parade for the girl, swing by It’s A Small World for momma and then you and the family continue with all manner of other distractions up until everyone passes out after the fireworks that night. Next morning you start up at Epcot or Animal Kingdom and repeat. This is not exactly an experience that would be construed as someone’s happy place, no matter what Disney marketing wants you to believe. The experience is too stressful. This isn’t to say that some of these destinations can be someone’s happy place, but it is never for what they are generally known for.
What a Happy Place IS…
I have a few examples of happy places. Cliff Blizinski, the famous game designer, cited the Carolina Beaches as his happy place in an interview. For a couple of family members of mine it’s being on boats and fishing. For one, it’s sitting on his boat parked at the marina and having a cocktail while fishing with little chance of catching anything. I’ve written about my father’s generation and how for many of my older relatives Keuka Lake was the ‘happy place’. For those that I talk to who seem to be able to handle the challenges the world throws at them, their happy place plays a pivotal role. As they talked about how much they loved their happy place, I realized I didn’t have an equivalent escape. I don’t really have a happy place. I have writing and I have achieving a goal I set for myself, but unless you consider my mind a happy place, then I don’t have one. That got me thinking that I need one. If I need one, then I need to know what I’m looking for. I asked myself the question: what makes up a happy place?
What do all of these have in common?
The first step was to take a look at what the different happy places people have cited have in common. They are real places but separate from where you live and work. This isn’t the fictitious home in the middle of the river, or the castle in the mountains. Those are fantasies. They are actual places and in most cases they are relatively easy to access. For the most part the people with happy places get to go there as they need. It’s not the same for everyone. Easy access for one person’s happy place can be insurmountable for another. This is because getting there can have a geographical or financial barrier. Example: if a pub in Ireland is your happy place, and you have the funds to go over multiple times a year, then it qualifies. If your happy place is a two hour drive down to the beach, then it qualifies assuming you have a place you can afford to rent or stay at.
They tend to be low activity. The tone and feel is relaxed and carefree even if the energy level is high. An example of a high energy level happy place is participating in a local sports or music festival. If you lose yourself in the moment, in the performance, and you get to go as needed, then it can be your happy place. This being said, I find that typically they tend to be more relaxed. It’s what we think of as a traditional vacation even though vacations in the modern era for many people are high activity destinations. An example of a destination that can be both a vacation destination and a happy place is going on a cruise. For some, especially the family or the first timer the ship is all activity activity activity. The other side of the spectrum is a cruise for the person who’s been on dozens of them. They don’t go on every excursion and they don’t fight for a seat by the pool on sea days. They relax and read something or nap in a chair on the lower decks closer to the ocean. They take in a nice meal when they are hungry. They get the spa treatment at their leisure. They peruse the shops on board the ship and in port slowly and without any desire to buy anything. For this type of individual, the cruise is a happy place which is why they went on twenty five of them.
They come along later in life. This is because the world is a pretty big place. There are lots of places to go and lots of things to sample. You don’t know that a destination vacation isn’t typically a happy place until you’ve been on a few of them and that usually takes several years. There is also the greater need for the happy place as you settle into the routine of life after the youthful exploration period. It’s what people would describe as ‘settling down’. It’s my experience that when you settle down you then begin stressing up. Only at that point can you start to figure out where you can go as part of your process to meet that need for recharging your happy meter.
They tend to not have kids or the kids have their own thing to do. Why is this? Well kids, and it doesn’t matter the age, can be stressful. Stress is the antithesis of a happy place. With kids, it can be anything from diapers to dating or sibling rivalry to sour attitudes and everything in between. Generally, with children, there is an unmet need or want of some sort. The kids naturally push the parents for their desire or justice to be met which keeps the parents from getting into the happy zone. How can you get there when you are constantly hearing “I WAS PLAYING WITH THAT!” or “I’M SOOOO BORED!!”?? Now if the kids have a safe distraction, then it is possible for the happy place to be a family event. An example of this would be a family vacation in the mountains. If Grandma and Grandpa are watching the kids and the parents get to leave a few times a day for dates or relaxation on their own, then going to your happy place in the mountains with the kids is possible.
The most important element is that the happy place changes your frame of mind. You forget about the pressures and issues. There is enough of a pull of the happy place that it reels you in away from all the tough stuff in your life. You relax, you unwind and you feel as comfortable as when you put on that old shirt or pair of jeans you’ve had for twenty years. You know nearly everyone or almost everything about the place because you get to go there with some frequency.
Going back to the question of do I have a happy place, unfortunately I think the answer is still no. The closest I ever came was Captiva Island. On that particular trip I didn’t have to study or work, we had grandparents watch the kids, and I got to go on a daily bike ride with my wife to shops and restaurants. Even then, for various reasons, it wasn’t perfect. It was sort of a happy place tease for me. I have tried variants of that trip a few other times but it never really worked out. I do think having a ‘happy place’ is a good thing, and it should not only be sought out, it should be cultivated. The question then becomes is the happy place something you can build or create? If you make it, can it be permanent?
Can you create your happy place?
To create something typically takes money. If life beats you down financially, how often can you get there? The best thing about a happy place is that it doesn’t have to be expensive. I know one person who’s happy place is fishing by a pond on his friends property. Fishing seems to be a big thing for a happy place. For another it’s working on projects at a buddy’s house. If you don’t like those options, and need to get away, there is always camping in state parks. That’s practically free and has all the needed elements for a Happy Place.
The follow-up question is can your happy pace be permanent? I think this is something that is a natural outcome of experiencing the happy place for a number of years. I know from observations that it’s something many try: I talked about my family members who live at the beach or have lakefront property. This is in effect an attempt to make the happy place permanent. I’m not so sure it worked for them or others I’ve seen attempt the same thing.
The happy place is an escape from the stress of life. Even if you are retired with a pension life still happens. Issues still arise as a course of the human experience. There are still kids, even adult kids, and all the issues they bring. There are other family commitments, work, even if you’re retired, there may be health issues. So no, I don’t think it can be permanent. That being said, I do think you can make the happy place be more accessible. Your happy place may not be your beach house, but it may be fishing on the pier that’s a short walk away. It may be the state park trails that aren’t too far from your inexpensive small rural home. It could be playing in a band every weekend at the local watering hole.
What is your happy place? I can’t answer the question, but hopefully you can. If you can’t, then I would suggest that you consider this conversation as a starting point. Having a happy place is important. I may be challenged in finding one, but that doesn’t mean you will be. Where do you feel less stress? What do you enjoy? How can you get there more easily and therefore more often? These are valid questions even if you have a happy place because most people could use more time at their happy place. Searching for it and figuring out the changes you need to make in life to make it a more permanent part of your existence will be work. It may require some sacrifice but like much of the things I write about, it is possible. If you do this, your life will be better because of all the benefits that more time at your happy place can bring. So my advice is to go for it, go get searching for a happy place ASAP or make sure you can spend more time at your happy place if you have one. There is one thing I am absolutely sure of, if you follow this advice, I guarantee you’ll be happy You did!
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