As you spend time catching up with family and friends this holiday season here are a few ideas to ponder. What stories from your own life have you told time and time again? What experiences stand out in your mind? Two stories that come to my mind include standing at the finish line of a Color Run with my best friend post-race and high-fiving every finisher until our voices were hoarse from yelling out, “Yeah! You did it!!!” Another favorite moment of mine is weekend rock climbing trips to New River Gorge, WV nearly every week my senior year of college.
As you consider your memories reflect on why you value them versus the numerous other minutes, hours, and days that have elapsed during your life. That Color Run was advertised as a 5K, but it felt more like three. For an endurance runner like me, that situation had the potential for disappointment. But, what made the event memorable, was the unique experience involved in hyping up the energy at a formerly lackadaisical finish line. The key word is unique. While humans beings may be creatures of habit, those moments which break routine are the true fuel for life. These are the things you tell stories about, the moments you recount over and over again.
If you are planning your gift giving this holiday remember that money spent on an experience brings more happiness than money spent on material items. Go camping, hiking, paddling, climbing, or just for a walk to see someplace new! Although these adventures do sound incredible and fully worthy of future storytelling, perhaps your limiting factor is not motivation, but the chronic disease of the modern age: a lack of time. It was always so easy to find people interested in going to the New River Gorge with me, but when it actually came time to drive there most people flaked out because of other obligations. But wait – there is good news too, rooted in the way our brains are wired. When our brains store memories we tend to chunk similar events into a single experience. For example, if I went rock climbing for two days versus someone else who went on the same trip and extended their trip for four days we are both likely to regard the trip with similar fondest. Thus the unique nature of an experience is more important than an extended period of time devoted to the same activity. Consider a 3-month backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail versus a 6-week trip. Again your memory of this experience will likely evoke a similar emotional response even if you opt for the shorter duration. The bottom line is if time is your problem, commit to short adventures in new places that can serve as exciting, new stories and bring happiness to your life even if you can’t take time off for an extended vacation.
Need further motivation for new adventures? Studies have shown that you become more productive and even more creative in problem-solving when you break up an assignment with exercise or some other active adventure. So if time is your limiting factor, weigh in the gains in work productivity and the rise family holiday bragging rights that come from new adventures and new stories. What would a tourist be excited to do or see if they came to your town? If you have yet to cross these activities off your personal list there is a starting point. Seek out an adventure worthy of a new story!