Sunday, June 25, 2017

Fwd: This Is How To Have A Great Vacation: 6 Secrets Backed By Research

This man often has good ideas, good expressions and good references.  This may be relevant at any time of the year but maybe especially now.  - Bill

Welcome to the Barking Up The Wrong Tree weekly update for June 25th, 2017.

This Is How To Have A Great Vacation: 6 Secrets Backed By Research


Before we commence with the festivities, I just wanted to let you know my first book is now a Wall Street Journal bestseller! To check it out, click here.


Click here to read the post on the blog or keep scrolling to read in-email.

You'd like to be on vacation right now, wouldn't you?

You've probably heard that spending money on experiences like travel makes you happier than just buying material things. Well, that's true:

Asked which of the two purchases made them happier, fully 57% of respondents reported that they had derived greater happiness from their experiential purchase, while only 34% reported greater happiness from their material purchase.

But, as usual, that's not the whole story...

Experiences aren't always the biggest happiness boosters. When they go well, they're more likely to bring you joy than buying stuff. But when they go bad, they're worse:

...experiences do lead to more happiness when the purchase goes well. "However, for negative purchases, bad experiences lead to more lasting unhappiness than do bad material purchases. Experiences 'stay with' us longer than material purchases, whether good or bad. They simply have more lasting power over our happiness...

So if you're going on vacation, you want to do it right... But what are the rules for having a good vacation? (They didn't offer a class on that in my high school.)

Well, my girlfriend and I recently took a trip and you better believe I wanted to wring every last drop of pleasure out of our getaway. So, me being me, I reviewed the research. It made our trip great... despite plenty of unexpected adversity.

And it can do the same for yours. So here's what scientific studies say you need to know to have a great vacation...

1) Anticipate

Book your trip as early as possible. No, I'm not telling you that because it's prudent or because it will save you money. I'm saying that because the sooner you book it, the sooner you can start anticipating it.

Believe it or not, anticipating your vacation can be even more enjoyable than the trip itself.

From The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn't, What Shouldn't Make You Happy, but Does:

...researchers who studied a thousand Dutch vacationers concluded that by far the greatest amount of happiness extracted from the vacation is derived from the anticipation period...

No, I didn't book our trip early. Cut me some slack; I've been busy writing blog posts and promoting a book. (See what I did there? Very meta.)

But we got our anticipation in because we've been drooling over this adventure for months.

Now anticipation doesn't just boost happiness before the big day arrives. If you make anticipation a habit, it can turn you into a happier person all around:

...people who devote time to anticipating enjoyable experiences report being happier in general (Bryant, 2003).

(To learn more about the science of a successful life, check out my new book here.)

Alright, so you're putting your getaway on the calendar ASAP. But what kind of vacation should you take? Research shows people often make two big mistakes when deciding on a trip...

2) Avoid The 2 Big Errors

Your friend had fun in Hawaii so maybe you should just go to Hawaii... Wrong.

The first big mistake people make when planning a vacation is they think too much about the event and not enough about their personality:

They also discovered that most of us ignore our own personalities when we think about what lies ahead—and thus miscalculate our future feelings... "It might be worthwhile, before you make a big decision, to think about your personality and how you usually react," Quoidbach says. Think about planning a vacation, for example. If you have a happy disposition, you probably don't need to waste a lot of money and effort finding the perfect location (because you will be happy with most vacations anyway). By contrast, if you have a less happy disposition, you might be more prone to regret the slightest annoyance, so carefully planning every detail of the trip might be the best strategy for your future happiness. "Don't focus too much on the event; think about who you are," advises Quoidbach.

If you're a thrill-seeking extrovert, a week-long meditation retreat may be ill-advised. And if you go through a bottle of Purell a day, backpacking through a rainforest would be a prescription for a panic attack.

The girlfriend and I picked a place that we both found gorgeous and that had plenty of activities she loved... Oh and it, um, just happened to have incredible WiFi coverage.

Now the second big mistake people make is that with expensive purchases like vacations, they're often too focused on getting value for their money. That's like ordering the item on the menu that gets you the most food for your dollar -- even if you don't like that type of food.

Research shows that with cheaper purchases (like going to the movies) we're more focused on relationships -- who we're going with. And that perspective leads to more happiness-inducing results:

"In terms of happiness, the relationships people build through shared experiences are more important than the experience itself... This study shows that at lower price points, people pay more attention to what's important – sharing the experience with others."

Think a little less about getting the most for your buck and more about who you're going with and what the two of you will really enjoy. (Wasn't a problem with our trip.)

And how long should your vacation be? Research says aim for 3 to 6 days:

...people on mid-length holidays of between three to six days tended to report more positive mood than those on shorter or longer trips.

We went for six days and it was great. And given that Air Berlin lost our luggage and I only had the clothes I was wearing on the plane, um, seven days would have been difficult... And smelly. Very smelly.

(To learn the 8 ways to spend your money that will increase happiness, click here.)

So you know the type of vacation you want to take. But how should you spend your time? You want to relax. You probably just want to be free to sit around and do nothing...

Bad idea.

3) Schedule Lots Of Activities

I know, I know: the idea of scheduling your free time sounds awful. Like work. And work is exactly what you're trying to get away from...

But when you don't schedule time, you waste time. People who schedule their free time are happier:

The result has found a positive relationship between free time management and quality of life... Results might indicate that people who manage their free time well lead to better quality of life.

And you want to put a bunch of fun stuff on the calendar, not just one big awesome thing a day. Why? Because the research consistently shows that when it comes to happiness, frequency beats intensity.

A lot of little good things create more smiles than a few big things:

Indeed, across many different domains, happiness is more strongly associated with the frequency than the intensity of people's positive affective experiences (Diener, Sandvik, & Pavot, 1991).

The girlfriend and I made sure every day had new, fun adventures (notwithstanding other unplanned activities like "The Quest for Claritin, Flonase, And Every Other Thing In My Toiletry Bag That Air Berlin Lost.")

(To see the schedule that very successful people follow every day, click here.)

Okay, you're breaking out the calendar and scheduling lots of fun stuff. But what's the best way to make the most of those activities so they really bring you joy?

4) Savor

The research says "savoring" is one of the keys to happiness. What's that mean?

It means put that smartphone down, stop thinking about what the trip is costing you, and really pay attention to the good moments unfolding before your eyes.

From The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want:

In all these studies those participants prompted to practice savoring regularly showed significant increases in happiness and reductions in depression.

So what's a good way to savor? Don't worry; the most effective method is ridiculously simple and the two of us did it a lot on our trip. Just turn to the person you're with and say, "Isn't this fantastic?"

It's that easy. Sound too easy to be effective? Wrong.

Via Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience:

Indeed, this social-behavioral approach to savoring is the single strongest predictor of enjoyment...

Note: Sarcastically saying "Isn't this fantastic?" when three days have gone by with no word about your baggage does not count.

(To learn all the most effective ways to savor the good moments of life, click here.)

You're savoring away. Great. But all moments are not created equal. So which parts of your vacation do you need to give special attention to?

5) Use The "Peak-End" Rule

Okay, we need to talk about colonoscopy research. Yes, it's relevant. And it was even done by a Nobel Prize winner. So bear with me here, okay?

From Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong:

I need to talk to you about getting things shoved in your butt. Yes, literally getting things shoved in your butt. Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman and Daniel Redelmeier looked at how much pain people remembered after colonoscopies. It turns out that how long the procedures lasted and the average amount of pain didn't influence people's recollections. What really seemed to matter was the peak amount of discomfort and how it ended. A longer colonoscopy with a higher average amount of pain but a low peak and a gentle ending was remembered as less uncomfortable. Meanwhile, a quick one with a low average but a sharp peak and an unpleasant conclusion was remembered as being far worse.

So what's this have to do with vacations? The underlying principle holds for things much more pleasant that colonoscopies: your memory isn't perfect. It's disproportionately focused on the peak and the end of any event.

So if you want to remember your vacation as being fun -- even if you're forced to pay extortionate prices for swim trunks because all you have is one pair of jeans -- then plan a positive emotional high point and make sure the trip ends well:

Applying this rule to our holidays would suggest we need to try to obtain as high a peak of enjoyment as we can, and to end on a high note. The rest might not matter so much.

(To learn the 6 rituals ancient wisdom says will make you happy, click here.)

Alright, so the vacation is over and you're rejuvenated. Time to jump right back into working like a dog? Absolutely not...

6) Ease Back Into Work

After you come back from vacation, you're happier, more energized, and you're likely to see a boost in your engagement at work. These feelings can last up to a month. Unless...

You immediately start working like a madman and don't give yourself some leisure time. Then that post-vacation boost gets cut a lot shorter.

So ease back into work. Make sure to have some fun outside the office. This can keep that afterglow around a while longer:

...job demands after vacation sped up the fade-out of beneficial effects. Additionally, leisure time relaxation experiences after vacation delayed the fade-out of beneficial effects. We conclude that reducing job demands and ensuring leisure time relaxation can prolong relief from vacation.

So if you write to me about this post and I don't get back to you immediately... well, you know why. I'd hate to be a hypocrite.

(To learn the secret to being successful and happy, click here.)

Alright, we've learned a lot. Let's round it all up and discover how to keep that vacation happiness going long after you've returned home...

Sum Up

Here's how to have a great vacation:
  • Anticipate: It brings more happiness than the trip itself because that awful thing called "reality" can't get in the way... and leave your luggage in Abu Dhabi.
  • Avoid the 2 big mistakes: Think about your personality and who you'll be going with. And keep the trip between 3 to 6 days. (Especially if you need to change your contact lenses and they're currently drying out in Abu Dhabi.)
  • Schedule lots of fun stuff: Frequency beats intensity when it comes to happiness. So plan lots of cool activities and take tons of great photos. (And then find solace in just how many other people are using the "#stillnoluggage" hashtag on Instagram.)
  • Savor: Unless it's to call Air Berlin customer service for the 47th time, put the smartphone down and enjoy yourself.
  • Use the "peak-end" rule: Your brain is going to remember the peak and the end, so plan them. Don't let the emotional high point be finally finding some deodorant.
  • Ease back into work: (No explanation for this one. I'm taking it easy.)
So what's the secret to holding on to some of that vacation joy?

Reminisce about the trip after you're back:

One reason that paying for experiences gives us longer-lasting happiness is that we can reminisce about them, researchers say.

Reliving the good times with your travel partner is a huge happiness booster.

Via The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want:

Researchers have found that mutual reminiscence—sharing memories with other people—is accompanied by abundant positive emotions, such as joy, accomplishment, amusement, contentment, and pride.

After each trip, the girlfriend and I compile a list of memories. We include lots of stuff, but the majority of them are the moments that made us laugh out loud.

(Even if those moments are trying on the most ill-fitting, overpriced, touristy t-shirts because you can't stand washing your only shirt in the bathtub yet again.)

The two of us focus on the funny moments because that's just our way... but I gotta say it's also nice to know the scientific research has my back on this one:

Results show preliminary support for the notion that reminiscing about laughter may have a more potent influence on relationship well being than reminiscing about other positive events.

So go plan that vacation. And make it a great one.

Sadly, that trip will eventually come to an end...

But the wonderful memories won't. They'll be with you long after you've returned home...

And finally put on a clean shirt.

Please share this on Facebook. Thank you!

Email Extras

Findings from around the internet...

+ Want to know which little thing that you leave out is making you stupider? Click here.

+ Want to know why it's so hard for people to admit they're wrong? Click here.

+ Do our adolescent years affect us forever? Click here.

+ Miss last week's post? Here you go: This Is How To Have An Amazing Relationship: 7 Secrets From Research.

+ Ever thought of writing a book or making a movie? Something solid that will stand the test of time? My friend Ryan Holiday has an excellent new book coming out that lays out the important fundamentals. Check it out here.

+ You made it to the end of the email. Yes, it was quite a distance to travel and I'm thrilled you made the journey. Crackerjack time: Okay, no fancy-pants, smarty-smart stuff this week -- we're just having a rollicking good time in the Crackerjack section. Want to know the most awesome, over-the-top, action-martial-arts movie you've never heard of? One that was selected for the Sundance Film Festival? (Okay, maybe it *is* a little fancy-pants.) Then check out the trailer for the Indonesian film, "The Raid", here. (Oh, and if this sounds like your kind of thing, crank the volume and go full screen. The trailer is pure adrenaline.)

Thanks for reading!

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Dance your PhD

If you have written a master's thesis or a doctoral dissertation, you know that what it is about and what it actually says and what it shows about the world or the field or your hypothesis is difficult to convey to the general public.  Did your mother read the paper?  Did your grandmother understand the basic idea? Was Uncle Harry at all interested?

I had heard of the contest "Dance your PhD" before but Lynn commented on the ads she saw online to get involved in the contest.  Her dissertation is entitled "A Reader Response Analysis of Hypermedia".  She doesn't currently plan to dance to it but she is a good dancer and I want to be there when she does.  My dissertation is entitled "An Application of Decision Theory to Education".  I think I am an ok dancer but I believe I would do better to sing a song or bake something that explains my paper. 

If you are a PhD student now or have written a dissertation, here is a link to the Google Search results for "dance your PhD", sponsored by the American Association of Advancement of Science, Science magazine and HighWire Press.  The contest has run every year since 2007 and there are YouTube videos of the results, with links at the bottom of this page.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

What's a land line, Grandad?

And, what's a phone booth?


We never had a party line in our house, but my wife had one as a child.  Things change all the time.  One force for change that is mentioned all the time is invention, innovation, especially in the field of electronic communication.  The iPod, the iPad and the iPhone are often mentioned but another force that may well be even more powerful is profit.  If I sell widgets, I make a little money each time someone buys one.  But if no one is buying, I will have to design widget 2.0.  In fact, with modern accounting and data processing, I may move to version 2.0 way before sales have dropped to zero.  As an alert modern trend watcher, I will know when successive data points on the sales graph indicate a definite downward trend.  


It's true that your modern smartphone is a mini-computer of great power and versatility.  We have the saying these days "There's an app for that" and whatever "that" is, there may well be an app for it.  Counting steps, measuring the distance of your walk, communicating with your friends and buddies, paying bills, getting a recipe for pesto - it is not easy to find an activity or a goal that is completely unrelated to the thousands and thousands of apps, those mini-programs that may be a self-contained game or may have any other job or ability.


There are many complaints and fears that everyone is turning into a screen watching zombie.  If you are afraid that the teenagers can't stop looking at their screen, you are out-of-date.  It's no shame to be out-of-date.  We all are, in one field or another.  But take a look at your senior citizen friends.  They are using the latest app and playing the latest game, too.


So, the times are a-changin', as they always are.  You may have a tough time finding a turntable, a wringer or phone booth, these days but don't get too depressed about all the changes.  Some of your best doctors and plumbers have not retired yet.  Some of your favorite programs are available to stream (What's streaming, Grandad?) and it can be fun and profitable to learn to find what you like on YouTube.


Friday, June 23, 2017

Sideways Dictionary (via the Scout Report)

Sideways Dictionary:

What is metadata? When people discuss net neutrality, what do they mean? What do people do during a hackathon? As technology continues to grow so does technology related vocabulary. <i>The Washington Post</i> and Jigsaw (a tech company that works at the intersection of technology and geopolitical concerns) have teamed up to create the Sideways Dictionary. This dictionary explains technology-related vocabulary terms by employing multiple analogies to help make these terms comprehensible to everyone, regardless of previous technology background. For example, a firewall is explained by the following analogy: "It's like a nightclub bouncer who decides who's going in and out. From time to time, the guest list may change, but the bouncer is always the one who enforces it."  Users are invited to submit their own analogies and upvote or downvote existing analogies. Each entry also links to definitions of similar words, helping visitors build their tech vocabulary. [MMB]

(Subscribe to the Scout Report at

Can I really get off this stuff?

My friend is an experienced psychologist, counselor and professor.  He introduced me to the area of motivational interviewing.  The general problem of people wanting to do something but somehow failing to do it is a widespread one.  Motivational interviewing is a process where a counselor talks to a client with the goal of helping the client deepen personal motivation to work toward accomplishing the desired aim, whether it is less smoking, more exercise or something else.

I read Margaret Talbot's moving and helpful article in the New Yorker "The Addict Next Door" about the opioid epidemic as it shows up in Martinsburg, West Virginia and other places like parts of New Hampshire and Vermont.  I had been hearing about this opioid stuff but I didn't really pay attention until I saw that AARP article.  Whether it is alcoholism, domestic violence, screen time addiction or some other habit/behavior problem, motivation and self-knowledge are fundamental to making a change of the desired kind.

For whatever reason: basic curiosity, greater understanding of myself and others, I want to know more about motivational interviewing so I watched Dr. Bill Matulich on YouTube

From previous study and experience, I have learned that in many interpersonal situations, it works much better to listen reflectively and make I-statements.  Listening reflectively is the business of just listening with some rephrasing now and then that shows I have been listening and I am getting the message.  Making I-statements is making other comments about me and my state rather than telling the other person how he feels or what he should do.

A new understanding that I got from the short video above is ambivalence.  That is the situation where I want to change but I don't want to, either.  I know change would be good for me but I really like those cigarettes.  I have liked them.  I know they are hard to give up.  So, I am torn between yes and no.  That push-pull is itself unpleasant and internally embarrassing and irritating.  If I just have another smoke, I will have put aside my effort to quit and I will get a shot of nicotine.  If I feel like I am a weakling anyway and I doubt I am going to be able to quit, why not end the torture of deprivation and the added upset of wondering how well I am going to do in this quitting project.  

I hadn't really focused on the ambivalence alone but I can see that it is a force to be reckoned with.

In reading about the opioid problem, I also learned that continued use of heroin or its derivatives, including the lab medicine fentanyl, which is 50 to 80 times as powerful as morphine, increases the body's tolerance for the drug without making the body more able to handle it.  These drugs are central nervous system depressants, the heart and lungs.  While they deliver a dreamy state temporarily, the body needs more and more of the drug to get into that high so it is pretty easy to take enough to stop the heart and breathing, once the user is sufficiently experienced.

Without work on one's mind and thinking habits, it is possible to come close to stopping the heart and lungs, get an antidote drug and go back out and do it all again, this time using a bit more of the stuff. Famous quarterback Brett Favre had a similar problem but stuck to his treatment regimen and got out of it.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Grown-up work

Asian educators might have a different idea but it seems to me that mindfulness meditation training for the mind fits better into the life of an older adult, say over 60 or 70, than into the life of a child. American children may have enough to do to grow up and flourish without something else to learn and master.  Goldie Hawn, the actress, and Susan Kaiser Greenland and many others are working to arrange for children to learn to be aware of their own minds more and that effort may show itself to be worthwhile for more and more kids in this country.

I guess I have trained myself to more or less accept oppositions and disappointments.  I could work to learn to change such things into positives, finding the silver lining in them or giving myself points for suffering obstacles or both. I believe that my nature, both individual and species-related, is to celebrate the things that are happy and good and to shy away from things that are negative.  But, when I am not too tired, I am learning to see negatives as exactly what I should expect a good portion of the time.

I do stay aware that my perception is limited in scope and what I see as a negative may fool me.  Admittedly, things that look positive sometimes fool me, too.  And it is not always a matter of mis-recognizing.  There are times when something really is a burden or a pain, but in a day or a month or a year, is clearly valuable and something I am grateful for.

Rather than working at changing something negative into something happy or good, I think a better course is to be patient with the negative.  Watch it carefully and also my reaction to it carefully and fully.  I am trying to be respectful of the power of negatives and appreciative of my ability to absorb negatives and take them in stride, seeing them as bothers or burdens I have been expecting and as opportunities to open to them and take them in.

These are the sorts of ruminations that occupy me these days.  I doubt I had the capacity or interest in engaging in them as a child.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Gracie, Frankie and my mom

Gracie and Frankie is a TV show broadcast on Netflix.  Both actresses, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, play women who have had long marriages to their lawyer husbands.  Those guys have worked together over the years and they have fallen in love with each other and have married each other, leaving the two women, who have never been all that close, to live together and try to bear each other.


Some of the episodes are quite funny.  I enjoyed a recent one where Gracie and Frankie both have back problems and are both on the floor and can't manage to get up.  My mom lay on the floor for a whole day in a similar trapped situation.  I am sure it wasn't funny for her.


The situation exemplifies the sudden change in circumstances that can befall anyone, especially someone whose sight, or strength or balance or breathing or heart can lessen or fail unexpectedly.  One of our usual assumptions is that older people will not suddenly have a heart attack or keel over but sudden changes can and do happen.  The Buddhists like to say that everything changes and I am confident they are right.  


There are grown children who care about their mothers and would be happy to help them up.  If they could use the phone, those grown children would come over and assist.  Normally, the wireless phone would be right there in its cradle but the tv remote gets misplaced so often that it is in the phone cradle and we are not sure where the damned phone is.  Wherever it might be, if we do locate it, it is sure to be nearly unreachable place, a location that is a full challenge to reach or worse. Anyone who has spent time in a hospital bed knows the value of every square inch of real estate on the night stand or other places we can reach. And we are all familiar with the idea that whatever we need just now is not available or isn't working.  


Plus, the kids, God bless 'em, are busy.  They aren't expecting to be asked to interrupt their day and their meetings to fight their way across town to help one of us up.  So, when they do, they aren't going to be in a real happy mood.  And after all we have done for them!  Sometimes, when we lie on the floor for quite a while, discomforted, embarrassed and worried, we aren't as skilled at expressing genuine gratitude as we might be.  

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