Pursuing Happiness: The Art of Vacationing

August 5, 2022

I suffered just enough.

A while back, as I prepared for our every-other-year bike trip, I wrote that I had begun my cycling training a little too late. Last week, our group of friends took our 6th trip together, biking through the hills of the Paso Robles wine country and the central California coast. We biked about forty miles a day, and I was able to complete all the rides, suffering only mildly, and enjoying all of it.

I love these trips. To me, they are a perfect use of vacation time. The days are active – we wake up fairly early, and we are on our bikes (AIS – A** In Seat) by 8:30am. On the rides, I experience exploration, physical exertion, companionship, beauty, the outdoors, exhilaration, and in the end, a sense of accomplishment. We try to finish before lunch, so the rest of the day can be spent doing anything – eating, napping, exploring, wine tasting, or just taking in a new area. I exercised four hours a day and gained weight on the trip. Again, perfect. I thought I was doing well to add a few extra pounds, but my very strong friend Mark crushed me, gaining a full ten pounds. He’s definitely an over-achiever.

I try to make the most of each and every vacation day. I have found that these days help me in my long work weeks throughout the year. I feel like the time away is truly a gift. My sentiments are best explained by a relatively new concept called time affluence. I first learned about it from Dr. Laurie Santos, the professor who teaches the most popular course at Yale. Her course is all about the science of the pursuit of happiness – it’s called Psych 157: Psychology and the Good Life. (See notes at the end.)

Santos pushes the idea that one way we are happier is when we believe that we have plenty of time. The great thing is, we can all choose to feel time affluent. One way of feeling time affluent is to make the most of your vacation. Using research from Dr. Santos’ course and my own experience, here are some thoughts I have about using these trips as a means of maximizing time affluence.

Take all of your vacation time: I take every day of vacation time every year, and I advise everyone I work with to do the same. Clarification: I did not say take all of your sick leave. Over the years, I have been fortunate to earn one sick day for every month of work, and to work in an industry that allows me to take my sick days with me as I moved from one school district to another. As of today, I have 361 sick days. I’ll be fortunate to have them if I’m sick, but to me, a good rule of thumb is, if you are healthy, GO TO WORK ON THE DAYS YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE THERE! But vacation – that’s something different. Use it all.

Once Vacation Starts, End the Stress of Preparing for it: When I was young, my parents, all four kids, and our dogs would squeeze/pile into our Volkswagen Squareback or wood-paneled station wagon after what was always a very stressful last hour of final preparations. During that last hour, Dad would be yelling about us not being ready, and we would all be wondering why he was yelling at all of us, when clearly one of our other siblings was to blame. It was probably Bill’s fault, because he was the youngest. Then, after all of the craziness and yelling were done, and once the car doors were shut, my dad would take a deep breath, then loudly yet pleasantly announce, “Vacation has started. NO MORE ARGUING AND NOBODY CAN GET ANGRY!” At that moment, he would turn on the radio or put in an 8-track tape, and we were off driving on some new adventure, leaving behind all the stress of the moments before.

Pursue Active Leisure Time: Engage in your favorite hobbies, enjoy meals with friends, try something new and adventurous, exercise – do fun stuff. Active leisure allows my mind to get into the state of flow that I’ve written about before, where I am fully engaged in whatever I am doing, and not letting any other worries creep into my head.

Pursue Idle Leisure Time: One of my favorite hours spent on this vacation was observing over one hundred elephant seals sunning themselves on the beach. Those guys know what idle leisure time is all about. There’s a time for swimming gracefully, and there’s a time for lugging their 2-ton bodies up on the beach and doing . . .  nothing. I’m not a great nothing-doer, but I’m an outstanding napper. Gifted, in fact. One of the great failures of our nation is our refusal to adopt the siesta as a way of living. I’m not much of a sit around and talk for hours guy, but playing cribbage, cooking, and eating long meals – and napping . . . I’m all in for that. Downtime is good for the soul, and the science of happiness confirms that.

And through all of it, consciously take the time to reflect and feel grateful for the time that allows for the lack of stress, the active leisure, and the idle leisure. That gratitude is what makes us feel so time affluent.

So, do your best to be flexible, to get along, to take alone time when you need it, and to make the vacation special for everyone on the trip. It’s going to be great. Enjoy every moment.

All of us can make choices that can allow for time affluence, not only on vacations, but in our daily lives as well. I’ll write about that later.

Thanks for making time to read this post. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.


To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here


Anyone can take Dr. Santos’ course. If you want a good article advertising itself as a cheat sheet to the course, check out this article by Adam Sternbergh.

To actually take the course online for free, you can take it through Corsera by clicking here.

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  1. Seth finn says:

    Great post Mike, such an interesting point about time affluence, I know exactly what Dr. Santos is talking about, yet I’d never thought of it that way. Those days where you’re getting a lot done, and you feel in command of what’s in front of you. For me, it feels like the thing the great athletes talk about, slowing the game down, playing at your pace, it’s a good feeling, a complete feeling, like we’re where we’re supposed to be.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      I love that, Seth. Slowing the game down is a perfect complement to this idea. When you are completely in the moment, and time is moving slowly because you make it so, you are much more able to see all that is right, wrong, and beautiful in that moment. Thanks for the insight.

  2. Wayne Reel says:

    Enjoy your writing whenever I make the time to read. Could totally relate to loving naps, good food and time with family and friends.
    Wish I’d had this before beginning my summer vacation.
    Have a great day, Mike!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Somehow, Wayne, I think you would be a master of feeling time affluent, just by the nature of who you are. Thanks for making the time!

  3. Roxanne ur favorite 2nd cousin says:

    I may be retired but I’m on my way to Daytona Beach for my vacation! Catching up with my brother.. That means cooking, grilling, eating and taking naps! Life is good! I am extremely thankful and blessed! I’ll DM you pictures.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Sounds spectacular! And yes, even retired people take vacations. Good thought there. Tell that brother of yours hello!

  4. Mitch Ozawa says:

    Wonderful read this morning Mike – as usual. I especially like “Once vacation starts, end the stress of preparing for it”. I think too often we forget that the joy of vacation is “going with the flow”. Yet, that is exactly what is needed to re-set from our busy, over-scheduled work environments. And thanks to you, I want to be an elephant seal in my next life. They talk the talk and walk the walk! Have a great day. Mitch

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      I love ALL of that, Mitch! Thank you. I see us arguing over spots on the beach in our next life, then lying contentedly in the sand for hours.

  5. Connie Harrington says:

    I love the idea of time affluence! I can see that I built that in (unknowingly) when I retired. Instead of plugging in lots of activities bc I AM a person who likes a lot going on, I’ve allowed the feeling of time affluence, it felt good, and now I know IT’S A THING! Thanks for the info Mike!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Love it, Connie. But even having that feeling, like you always do, of gratitude for the time to do all of those activities – that’s time affluence too. You can have it all, and as usual, you do.

  6. Mike Urbanek says:

    Right on point, although I never heard the term “time affluent”. I like it. I think that’s what I aimed for my whole self-employed life, because I prized avoiding the job becoming a grind. While traveling for work, seeing new places and learning new stuff, I might take an extra couple hours to play nine holes every once in awhile. I always thought that when we went on vacation I was already half way there!

    Thanks for tying it up for me, Mike.

    Mike Urbanek

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Yes, Mike, you seem to have that sense built in. I always feel like you are made of time when I see you, but I know that’s a choice you make. Thanks for reading and for your insight!

  7. Lynn Johnson says:

    “That gratitude is what makes us feel so time affluent.” Thanks for my gift of this takeaway, Mike! And with such perfect timing, too, as Brian and I head out soon to the Washington Peninsula. I will absolutely keep gratitude as the centerpiece while having the time to explore the beautiful environs with family!!

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Hi Lynn! That Washington Peninsula is spectacular. I’ve only explored a little of it, and I can’t wait to go back. Enjoy and thanks for reading!

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