When we go on Spring Break (or any vacation) we experience the “greatest hits” of a city, beach town, or ski resort. We go to the best restaurants, the best hikes, the best shows, and experience them all in a stress free way. Then we come home and Spring Break hangover sets in. On a work night, bored and tired we think: why is my city not as fun as that city I just visited?
This type of thinking is both dangerous to our happiness and illogical.
It’s dangerous because our happiness is highly dependent on comparisons. If we think the grass is greener in the city we just visited, we become less happy with the grass in our own city.
It’s illogical, because the grass in the vacation city seems greener by comparison largely because we have walked that city’s grass much less and we spent money to walk on the greenest parts. In our own towns, we’ve been walking over the same bits of grass every day, psychologically wearing it down.
After spring break, we might long to live daily life in the vacation city. However, daily life in a vacation city would be much more mundane and stress-filled than we experienced on vacation. Daily life in the vacation city would be less five star and more Five Guys. As the cast of Spring Breakers learned, “Spring Break forever” is hard to maintain.
In a fascinating study, David Schkade and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman found that there was very little difference in people’s daily life satisfaction regardless of whether they lived in California or the Midwest. However, people thought there would be a big difference. This is to do to with a “focusing illusion” in which people overestimate the importance of certain factors (e.g. the beach) rather than the truly important factors (e.g. a fun job, family). Spring Break hangover (or any vacation hangover) can occur when people focus on the wrong elements.
However, vacations can also lead us to focus on the right elements. On vacation, people often do things they normally would not do. For instance they explore a new food, rock-climb, play mini-golf, pay a little more for a musical theater experience, spend thirty extra minutes driving to do a better hike, and turn off their cellphones to just enjoy the day.
Most of these activities are possible in or around most people’s home city. If people considers all the options within an hour or so radius of their house, then they are most likely within reach of a spectacular experience at any moment, if they only think like tourists.
Tourists tend to search for new bits of green grass to walk on, while locals tend to mindlessly tread over the same grass till the grass looks brown and feels boring. If instead, you look for bits of green grass around your city and be willing to take a few more minutes to drive out to it, in a small way you can make “Spring Break Forever” somewhat of a reality.