How to Choose a Holiday of Happiness

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This view of Rangitoto from St. Heliers Bay is always happiness-inducing.

The travel writing world is continually creating lists of where you should travel next. Barcelona, Morocco, Cape Town, or Singapore? It is too hard to decide, so you decide to go to Hawaii, again. (Or in my case New Zealand.) Vacations days are few and travel can be expensive, so it can feel like a big risk to try something like a safari in Kenya.

My recent New Zealand vacation is the first overseas trip where I have listened to podcasts everyday along the way. (I figured out how to download them on the podcast app Breaker when I have wifi access.) And on the Hidden Brain podcast from NPR “You 2.0: Decide Already!” Daniel Gilbert Stumbling on Happiness Harvard Professor, I learned why we might hit repeat instead of trying something new.

Imagine a future event, such as where you will live in retirement. Many of my friends have made decisions recently about retirement living with either a decision to stay in their long time home or a decision to move. One couple chose a active senior community with a beautiful apartment and lots of community activities and space; another couple chose a smaller but still gracious water adjacent apartment walking distance to many of their favorite places; another couple chose to stay in their longtime home but hire repairmen instead of the usual DIY. Each seems very happy with their choice. In each case it seems that they selected something not so distant from what their lifestyle was already because they were already happy.

When we think of the future we tend to focus on a few key details; and only one or two of the many, many details that are part of the experience. So they might notice the square footage of the apartment but not how many other apartments are on the floor and the number of daily interactions that it implies, or the pet policies and how that might impact you. I was impressed that the apartments in Meadowbank allowed a 90 day-no risk trial period. The community-oriented lifestyle is not for everyone and if you don’t get on with your neighbors it’s better for everyone if you opt out, rather than remain unhappily. I recently met a very lovely, cheerful 96-year old who exercised the opt out clause because she was being bullied at the senior community she tried.

Fortunately travel isn’t as high stakes as retirement living. Nonetheless, it is a real drag if your limited vacation time and savings involves a dud tour with obnoxious people. All the research might have pointed to an enjoyable experience, but we don’t know who we will be when we experience that event; imagination rarely matches the experience; we underestimate how much we’ll change. This happened to me when I tried to recreate the first Tour de France experience I had on Thomson bike tours . My experience with the group I traveled with in the Alps was so much fun, and a two of the couples were going to go on the Tour d’Italia. Alas the chemistry wasn’t the same within the group and I ended up counting the days till I was traveling on my own again. I enjoyed Venice even more for being free from the oppressive group dynamic. Screen Shot 2019-11-03 at 12.06.05 PM

Don’t rely on imagination; look for data. Gilbert recommends finding measures of the happiness of the people doing what you think you might like doing.  I have also found it really helps to know yourself and correctly apply the data to your situation. If you despise crowds then going to one of the “top 10 travel destinations” is probably not a good fit unless you can travel during off-season.

This Global Citizen ranking equated happiness with values I share: “What stands out about the happiest and most well-connected societies is their resilience and ability to deal with bad things,” said report co-editor John Helliwell, referencing New Zealand. “After the 2011 earthquake and now the terrorist attack in Christchurch, with high social capital, where people are connected, people rally and help each other and [after the earthquake] rebuild immediately.”

Gilbert also highly recommends using surrogation, that is relying on other people’s experience as a guide for your own. There are many platforms now that facilitate this: Yelp, Trip Advisor and others. Just remember even crowds can be biased; but you may share those biases. They are not perfect tools; however, GilbertTrip Advisor can round out your imagination and give your more detail to consider. Maybe the experience you were thinking of adding to your itinerary based on a friend at Book Club’s recommendation is panned on-line by someone who found it claustrophobic. And you get claustrophobia. 

Gilbert gave the example of choosing a movie–people prefer relying on the trailer over more detailed reviews by people who’ve seen it. We like to “trust our gut” because we live in the illusion of diversity (we are all so unique), when in reality, the reviews are a more reliable guide.

There is also a role in making a commitment to increasing our happiness. We think we’ll prefer keeping options open, but Gilbert’s research says committing to your choice will result in greater happiness. And we like a little mystery and surprise–not a a lot, just a little.

I choose New Zealand again and again. Similarly my adult children and I choose Monterey get aways every year, because I trust my own experience more than any travel writer’s opinion. I always have a wonderful experience when I go to New Zealand and I can create new adventures there so I still get some variety. I know that what makes me and my children happiest is beach access, trips to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Gianni’s pizza. We are perfectly right to book another condo in Pacific Grove or Monterey. To put a cherry on top, add some mystery–new restaurants, or new beaches–and the research says you will be even happier.

This is what the research says. What’s your experience?

 

 

 

Pacific Grove in Winter

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Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove, CA is popular with families and others year round.

I received the Monterey Bay Aquarium e-newsletter announcing the Member’s Night and made a hotel reservation right away. I figured that on a random Saturday night in January it would be quiet. While it is less busy than this last weekend with the AT&T golf tournament in Pebble Beach, it was still lively.

Traffic on Saturday was congested at various points between Sacramento and Monterey. I reached Monterey in time for a late lunch at Gianni’s Pizza in New Monterey. I checked into my hotel (not worth mentioning) and walked to the Pacific Grove coastal walk for some fresh air. It was beautiful at Lover’s Point.

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Beach 1: the family beach

The first Lover’s Point beach is the most protected and perfect for families with young children. The water is c-c-c-old but there is plenty of sand. This beach is also closest to a snack bar and coffee shop.

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Beach 2: Good for body paddling out to the surf.

The second beach at Lover’s Point provides access to the surf if you are interested in paddling out or surfing. The first two beaches have stairways to make access easier.

The third beach didn’t reveal itself until I walked a bit further along the beach walkway and looked back. It is a sliver of sand between the rock face and the waves. It is a beach for teenagers and others who like daring each other to dash in the surf.

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Pacific Grove is a wintering site for a diminishing Monarch population.

Lover’s Point is the perfect destination for a family walk and picnic or a bike ride. There is some parking on the street and is a good stopping point if you are driving around the peninsula on the coast road. Or it can be a rest stop if you are walking from Asilomar to the Aquarium.

I decided one night is not enough to warrant .a 3.5-4.5 hour drive one way.  A sign of my age, sigh. When I was a teenager I would drive that much to spend the day at the beach. Then with children I needed at least an overnight. Now I want more than one night to recover and to justify the carbon footprint! One thing for sure, Pacific Grove is worth the effort even in the dead of winter.

24 Hours in Monterey, California

I had a little less than 24 hours in Monterey on a Wednesday-Thursday. Monterey takes some effort to get to since you have to get through San Jose traffic. Every time as I approach the peninsula I wonder if it really is worth it–and then I see the Monterey Bay and ‘yes!”

Ever since I saw my friend Jen’s photos of the penguin parade at the Monterey Bay Aquarium I have been hankering to visit. I lived in Pacific Grove in 1984-5 and when I return I like to eat at my favorite restaurants and check out favorite beaches and walks. A lot has changed in 30 years so some flexibility is needed.

I was driving up from Bakersfield after a business meeting, so I got there too late to eat at my favorite dinner place SandBar & Grill on Wharf #2. I checked into the Lone Oak Lodge on north Fremont Street. It deserves the good reviews it received on Trip Advisor: clean, comfortable and spacious in a good location for under $100 a night. After a long day of driving I was ready to stop. I made a cup of decaf with my in room coffee maker and checked my email on the free wifi.

After a great night’s sleep I checked out by 8:30 so I could try a new breakfast place, LouLou’s Griddle. It is located on the same wharf as the SandBar & Grill. It was a beautiful, brisk morning. The wind was already blowing so I was relieved to find hot coffee and a seat at an inside table. It is a popular place and once you taste the food it is obvious why. The food is excellent in addition to the classic diner charm in a great location.

I returned to my car and headed to Pacific Grove to enjoy the ocean views at Lovers Point. Pacific Grove was originally a Methodist church camp with many of the smaller homes built as cabins. Lovers Point was Lovers of Jesus Point. There is a trail and walks from Asilomar to the Aquarium in New Monterey. The views are incomparable with opportunities to see otters and other sea life.

I like shopping in the Pacific Grove village. Over the years some things have stayed the same, like the classic post office and library, and other things have changed. Holman’s Department store closed. You can still buy books at the Book Works shop. I discovered a new shop Tessuti Zoo with unique gifts and colorful crafts made by the shop owner.

I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for a couple of hours of fun. (more to follow) I walked around Cannery Row and a ways down the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail. Next time I’ll explore bike rentals at Adventures By the Sea bicycle rentals at 210 Alvarado Street. You can cycle over 3.5 miles to Pacific Grove via Cannery Row.

I was ready for lunch around 1 p.m. and I really craved Gianni’s Pizza. Alas, they are only open for lunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So I circled back to Vivolo’s Chowder House that I passed at 127 Central Avenue. It was a happy discovery. It looks unimpressive from the exterior but it is elegant and the clam chowder deserves its local favorite status.

I debated doing more in Monterey, but the traffic is always miserable going through San Jose at rush hour. I decided to drive back via Santa Nella so I could see how full San Luis Reservoir is and enjoy a less stressful drive. The reservoir is completely full and the hills are the greenest I’ve seen in 7 years.

All together a very happy adventure.