Boy, oh boy, can we struggle! We can get upset when things don’t go the way we want them to. We can be upset when things change. And we hate it when something that was going well changes and starts going south. Someone we love has left. Our job has suddenly ended. Or an illness has kicked in. There are so many different ways we can suffer.
But we don’t need to suffer so. We can learn something from vacations, apply it, and make the rest of our lives a lot better.
Vacations are so relaxing, they give us a chance to see different parts of our world, and they allow us to meet new people. But what do vacations have to do with happiness and not suffering?
One of the key factors is that we don’t own much that has to do with the vacation. We don’t own the plane that flies us to our city of choice; we don’t own the car that takes us from the airport to our destination; we don’t own the hotel room. Everything we use will have to be given back; we know that and are perfectly happy with this arrangement. Because we’re not attached to these, we don’t get upset when we leave.
But now, if someone says, “I’m going to take your home next year,” we can be devastated. When we’re on vacation and get reminded we need to check out so someone else can use the room, we don’t get upset. We’re very fine with that, and we just move out and go somewhere else. That’s the key. Since we’re not attached to anything during our vacation, we just flow with life and have a great time. The minute we get home, however, we start getting attached to things again. We expect them to be there, and if they’re not, we become upset.
For a moment imagine if we saw life as a vacation where nothing we have was ours. Someone else will want our house or want our job or want a lot of things that we have. I know it may seem silly, but when we view life like this, we stop being so attached to everything. If and when change comes (and some change is inevitable), we won’t be so destroyed or upset by it because we’re not clinging to it. It’s like when we are asked to check out of the hotel room: we’re not upset because we’re not clinging to the room.
When I was younger, I didn’t own anything except for clothes, my bag, and a few other things. Yet I wasn’t worried. I just realized there would be a time when I would be able to purchase things, and I would get by. But, when we get older, we think we need certain things to be okay, so we become attached to them. Then we get upset if we think they’re going to be taken away from us.
Attachment and clinging cause us to suffer. We spend a lot of time fearful of things being taken away because we’re attached to them. No matter what, we want them to be there for the rest of our lives, but that makes life dangerous because we’re clinging tightly to something that probably is going to change. Even if the change doesn’t happen, we will still cause ourselves to suffer by worrying about that possibility.
If we start seeing life as a vacation where nothing belongs to us, we stop holding onto things. Then when things change, we can handle that because we’re not attached to them being the same way all the time. And we’re actually going to enjoy what we have in a greater way. On vacation, we’re able to have a really nice time with all the comforts we don’t have at home, and we allow ourselves to enjoy it because we know it’s not there forever. If we do the same with what we have at home, guess what? We will begin to enjoy everything so much more because we don’t own it. Rather, we see it as a gift.
For example, we can wake up every morning and say, “What a great place I have to live in today. I don’t know about tomorrow, but I sure am blessed today.” When we do that, life is a better experience because we’re not attached, and we enjoy what we have. We enjoy vacations, even though they’re not permanent, and we’re okay with that. We’re fine with it because we’re not attached.
Sometimes we stay in nice hotels; sometimes we stay in less nice hotels. Whatever happens, we adjust to those changes because we’re on vacation. If we have the same attitude in the rest of our lives, we will find happiness. We can say, “I’m on vacation for the rest of my life,” and then we’ll have better lives. When we are on vacation and things don’t go the way we want them to, we handle it better because we don’t expect things to stay the same. By losing the expectation and attachment, when changes happen, we can just roll with them and have a good time. Sometimes things go well, and sometimes they don’t go the way we want. But we can adjust to them. As long as we don’t cling to them, we are okay.
Losing attachment also applies to people. The reality is they sometimes leave too. People we love might die, someone we’re dating could leave the relationship, or a friend could move to a distant city. If we cling to other people, then we’re going to suffer. Instead, if we see them as part of our vacation, then we can enjoy them the way we would when meeting new people during a holiday without expecting to see them again. We’re going to have a great time with them, but we don’t expect to have them in our lives forever. Because of this impermanence, we can really enjoy their company. This may be harder to do with people we love, but the results are going to be the same. If we don’t cling to people when they come home late one night, we’re not going to freak out. When tragedy does strike and our relationship ends through death or a breakup, we will be okay. Of course, there will be some suffering, but a lot less. The less we cling, the less we suffer.
We have a choice. Do we want to be happy, or do we want to suffer? Sometimes relationships end, but even if they’re not ending, the fear of change is there. We might have a fight with our partner and think the relationship is over and we’re going to be miserable for the rest of our lives. Or, if our child has a cough, we might think she’s going to die from a serious illness. Our minds have the tendency to create stories of the worst that can happen when we cling to things and people. Even if they do happen, we deal terribly with the situation because we have clung so tightly that we can’t let go.
Now, imagine if we did this with our pets. Every time I get a new pet, I realize it’s probably going to pass away before I do. The dogs or cats or other pets most of us have don’t live as long as people. But that doesn’t keep us from loving them. We may love them even more, in fact. Think about going to the house of someone who has pets and enjoying them. When we leave, we don’t have suffer.
When we see other people as being on vacation with us and we don’t know how long we get to travel with them, life will go better.
Sometimes our paths with other people stay on the same journey for a long time, but other times they quickly go separate ways. That’s okay because we’re not clinging; we’re not expecting anything. We might be hopeful they will stay with us, but we’re not attached. Not clinging to them will cause us to find happiness because we will enjoy our time and then deal better should changes occur. We don’t love deeply out of a fear of losing the person. So, not clinging to someone causes us to love them better when they are in our lives. This is a possibility for any of us.
Unfortunately, people want to hang onto things and call them mine, mine, mine. When we cling to things, we can’t enjoy them because it’s as if we’re in the military defending our country. If we’re protecting an empire, we are not going to be enjoying the place; instead, we will be focused on it how to keep from losing it to others. To enjoy things, we have to let go and just see them as a gift for the day. If changes come, we can enjoy those, too.
This idea of letting go applies to our health as well. How do we not cling to our good health and, instead, see that as part of the vacation? It goes back to expectations. We like to be physically healthy and fit all the time. But we’re not. When we get sick, we might create stories about it, such as, “This isn’t supposed to be happening; I’m supposed to be healthy all the time.” But look at athletes and how they handle pain. They are sore a lot of the time. Yet they continue playing and competing and actually choose to do the activities that cause their bodies pain. But they are not attached to being free of pain; they accept the pain, even choose to live this way. It’s as if they’re on vacation. They’re not thinking that life has to be perfect all the time.
When we feel we have to be perfect all the time, we bring suffering into our lives. I knew someone who used to struggle with alcoholism, and when she quit, she told me her body was hurting a lot. When she was drinking, she didn’t feel much bodily pain. I think that’s probably why people turn to addictions: they want to mask the pain and feel good all the time. If we don’t get attached to being always free of pain and, rather, see physical pain as just part of life, we cope better. If we can roll with the changes, then we can still enjoy life.
Here’s another little subset within not being attached. We can focus on only one thing at a time. So let’s say we’re on vacation, and the weather is horrible. We can’t get outside at all. We were planning on lying by the pool and reading all day, but instead, we have to read in our rooms. This is okay because there are also other things we can do, such as get a massage at the spa. So we have a choice: we can focus on the bad weather and how we can’t follow our plans, or we can focus on the other activities we can do instead. We can’t focus on both, so we have to decide on only one. So which do we choose—the negative or the positive?
It’s the same way with health. If we are sick, we can watch TV or read a book, or we can call our friends and (if we’re not contagious) have them come over. The point is that we can adjust to anything if we are not attached to a certain outcome. We don’t want to be sick or suffering physically, of course, but when we are ill or in pain, our minds can make things either worse or better. If we focus on the good things in our life, we’re not going to focus on the bad things as much. Look at people who are battling severe depression. When they watch a comedy movie, they are not depressed. They might only feel depressed when they return to their heads after the movie. We can always choose to feel good and concentrate on something beautiful.
We just have to see it as not permanent and not become attached to it. When I was younger, I used to go on backpacking trips for over a week. They involved walking all day long, and by the end of the day, I was sore. Sometimes I had blisters and aches all over. However, I chose to go on those long hikes with significant pain because I was focused on the beauty and tranquility of being in nature. Since I love nature so much, I was willing to put up with the pain.
When we are suffering, we still have choices. We can choose to suffer. Or we can choose to feel we are on vacation and focus on the things around us that are beautiful. We won’t plan on them being there forever, and then we’ll discover that happiness is just a natural state on which we don’t lay a claim. We can all have beautiful and happy lives when we see life as a vacation.
Dr. Robert Puff, PhD is a clinical psychologist, author, international speaker, and happiness expert who has been counseling individuals, families, non-profits, and businesses for over twenty-five years (www.DoctorPuff.com). A contributing writer to Psychology Today, he has authored numerous books and creates a weekly podcast on happiness at www.HappinessPodcast.org. If you are interested in having Dr. Puff speak at your organization or company, you can learn more about his speaking services at www.SuccessBeyondYourImagination.com.