Exploring three unconventional books on happiness that actually point to LESS travel, not more!
Using my travel blog to discuss why we should all travel less might be a heresy, if not downright hypocritical. Chalk it up to depravity. However, there might be support for my radicalism. I’ve recruited three of my favorite books to make the case for why we may actually get more happiness out of less travel. Think I’m completely wrong? Tell me why in the comment section.
1.) The Alchemist
by Paulo Coelho
Required reading for world travelers, desk-chained pencil pushers, other forms of caged birds, and dreamers of any kind. “The Alchemist” is the quintessential book about following your dreams (and sometimes, why we shouldn’t). It’s a short read, but the kind of book that will have you folding every other page with dog ears because every chapter is a revelation.
This book makes the case for why people seek their own personal “treasure” and why others hold back. Many interpret this book as a call to travel. Yet I believe the message is about making our own decisions. At every point that Santiago decides to go forward, there are others that would’ve stayed, or even turned back. Not everyone’s paths are the same, and that’s OK.
2.) Moonwalking with Einstein
by Jonathan Safran Foer
“Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next–and disappear. That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.”
I’ve used this quote before in a post about why traveling alone doesn’t take bravery. Variety isn’t just the spice of life, it can make it feel longer. Yet, what if we spent every moment of our lives on the road, looking for something exciting to anchor our lives with?
Those memories could blend together, just as pushing papers would. The moments we spend with our families back home – watching TV, having a home-cooked meal, sleeping in our childhood bed – would then become the rare experiences we cherish. Without darkness, we wouldn’t know light. And we can’t appreciate the joy of breaking away from our day-to-day if we never have one to begin with.
3.) Stumbling on Happiness
by Daniel Gilbert
“Psychologists call this habituation, economists call it declining marginal utility, and the rest of us call it marriage.”
Unlike most literature on happiness, this is not a self-help book. Instead, it’s a simultaneously depressing and hopeful review of all the ways our brain deceives us into thinking we’re happy (or unhappy).
One of them is a phenomenon called habituation. Essentially, the more we do something we like, the less pleasure we get out of it. Gilbert points out that “human beings have discovered two devices that allow them to combat this tendency: variety and time” but we often combine the two to our demise. If we wait long enough to have the experience again, the pleasure we’d get is the same as the first time. We don’t need a variety if we have time.
As travelers, we often get caught up in our ‘buckets lists’ or how many countries we can say we’ve been to. We sometimes forget that the point of travel is not to pad our passports, but have fun. What right does a binge traveler have to judge someone who spends their two precious weeks of vacation a year going somewhere they’ve been before (and know they enjoy) if they’re going to get the most pleasure out of it?
(Bonus) The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster
I’m including this as a bonus because it doesn’t have anything to do with happiness or even travel. However, it does have everything to do with the way we look at our lives.
Before you brush this one off, “The Phantom Tollbooth” is more profound than your average children’s book. The moral of the story is in the last 2 paragraphs. If you own the book, you can flip to the back and read it yourself.
If you can’t be bothered to go dig it up, I’ve also included the text here. SKIP TO THE NEXT BOLDED PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT A SPOILER!
And, in the very room in which he sat, there were books that could take you anywhere, and things to invent, and make, and build, and break, and all the puzzle and excitement of everything he didn’t know—music to play, songs to sing, and worlds to imagine and then someday make real. His thoughts darted eagerly about as everything looked new—and worth trying.
“Well, I would like to make another trip,” he said, jumping to his feet; “but I really don’t know when I’ll have the time. There’s just so much to do right here.”
Disagree with my interpretation of these books? Think I’m wrong about the relationship between less travel and more happiness? Let me have it in the comment section!