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10 Secrets for Surviving a Family Vacation

The best-selling author of The Happiness Project reveals 10 must-know secrets for surviving your next family vacation.

5. Take time to exercise.

Some people view vacation as an escape from daily burdens — such as exercising. Don't think that way! Exercise is energizing and cheering, and it promotes sleep and relaxation. Vacation is an opportunity to make exercise fun, not a chore, by taking a new class or adding a new (sunny) backdrop to your usual routine. Recently when I had jet lag, exercise helped me adjust both coming and going. Also, you might be able to kick-start a new routine by beginning that exercise on vacation, when you’re not as busy.

6. Tackle one irksome task on vacation.

Some interesting studies suggest that interrupting a pleasant experience with something less pleasant can intensify a person's overall pleasure. As a consequence, I try to assign myself one annoying chore to tackle while on vacation; on our last vacation, I worked on updating my address list — a boring, time-consuming chore that I'd been putting off for months. Being away from my usual work routine made me feel relaxed, and completing one irksome task gave me the delicious feeling of having earned time to goof off. And I got to cross that chore off my list, which was enormously satisfying. (If you dislike exercise, see number 5; exercise could be your "irksome task.")

7. Allow yourself to overpack (when possible).

People may disagree with me about the happiness-boosting qualities of overpacking, and this strategy doesn't work if we’re hiking or doing lots of moving around. It's a luxury just to toss a bunch of stuff in the suitcase — but when I can, I do. While at home, we go for months without opening the medicine cabinet, but on vacation we seem to need every conceivable over-the-counter medication. I used to have long debates with myself about what we'd actually use — now I throw everything into a plastic bag, just in case. A simple problem, like not having a bandage handy, can turn into a major hassle when you’re away from home.

8. Make peace with technology.

The fact is, I have much more fun when my e-mail and Internet service are working; otherwise, I brood about it and spend a lot of time trying to get connected. So I made getting service a priority. Other people want to disconnect completely; that’s fine, too. Just recognize whether connection or disconnection will make the vacation experience as pleasant as possible for you — and plan accordingly.

9. Be grateful.

Because of the psychological phenomenon of the "negativity bias," we're all more sensitive to negative events and thoughts than to positive ones. It's so easy to get annoyed by the broken air conditioner, by the traffic, by the fact that I packed us all for 80° weather when it turns out we'll be in 50° weather. By mindfully focusing on feelings of gratitude and enjoyment, you keep yourself in a happier frame of mind. Also, if anyone on a family vacation is getting on your nerves (yes, it has been known to happen!), by focusing on reasons to feel grateful to that person, you help squelch emotions like annoyance and resentment.

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