Ask the Experts

Betterment and Beaches

I’m not a very frivolous person. In fact, most of my friends think I need to lighten up a little–and, to be fair, they’re probably right. But for whatever reason, this is just who I am! I accept that, and I accept that my sense of fun is going to be a little different from everyone else’s. I don’t like wasting time–I’d rather spend time getting better at something or learning something than watching a movie or having a drink. 

Usually, my friends and family understand this and deal with this. But when it comes time to go on vacation, I’ll admit it: I drive my family nuts. We’re headed to the beach this coming summer, and I’m already dreading it. How can I lighten up and have fun on vacation? To me, if I’m not doing something constructive, I’m not doing something worthwhile. 

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to better yourself and use your time wisely! In fact, it’s a very healthy thing to value. But it’s also true that your attitude is a tricky one when it comes to vacations–and it may not be the best one.

Or, to be more precise, perhaps the problem is that you have not thought through all of the consequences of your stance on vacation. You are frustrated by the lack of productivity and self-improvement that vacations represent. But a lot of productive people take vacations, and studies show that vacations actually make us more productive on the whole–meaning your anti-vacation stance is actually hurting you, which stands in direct opposition to your stated goals of self-betterment and productive use of time. 

So taking a break is good for productivity–that’s all well and good, but how can you take a break if you’re stressed by the very idea of inactivity? Simple: do an activity. Vacations aren’t just for laziness, say tourism guides on Mackinac Island–far from it, actually, as many vacations are full of physical and mental activity and self-improvement. You could take time to learn a new skill, say teachers at Ohana Surf Project, a Hawai’i-based company that offers surfing lessons. You could get a workout and improve your health and physique. Or you could simply bring a book to the beach and relax while you learn or fill a gap in your cultural knowledge (now’s the time to read that novel you never have time for). 

Some people relax by emptying their minds, and even the most productive people benefit from things like meditation. But if really unwinding in this way would be a shock to your system, you should at least consider treating your vacation as an opportunity for reflection and self-improvement–that’s a productive use of time by any measure, and when you return to your (clearly busy!) regular schedule, you’ll be glad you took a break from one kind of productivity and invested in another. 

“The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach.” — Henry Beston

Steven Callahan is a Financial Analyst and former Writer / Editor for Deadspin.