Thank God the semester is over. Grades are in. Winter break is well on its way. 2017 is history. All of us not taking winter courses have almost three weeks before we have to worry about Stony Brook again.
As with cryptocurrency, it’s easy to improperly invest in a vacation by exchanging effort for the wrong gains at the wrong times. We’re all driven to learn and experience so we are at risk for wasting our vacations and not getting the return on investment we deserve.
This year I’m trying to eat healthier and exercise more (like everyone else on the planet), read and write more, apply for jobs and make time for friends and family. That’s a lot to do. The last week of vacation, I’m going with a group of friends to freeze in the Adirondacks. I want to make this vacation and 2018 meaningful.
It’s easy for me to spend a full day watching Black Mirror or writing articles. Even spending a day “busy vacationing” like going to the Michelangelo exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art can leave me with a headache from staring at too many paintings. These are fun activities but they don’t constitute true relaxation.
The difficulty to achieve true relaxation is compounded by the cell phone that follows me everywhere I go. Without going into the scientific studies, I can say that often responding to texts feels like a chore. Words with Friends feels like a job. And I’m honestly only watching “The Office” because I got yelled at for not seeing it yet.
Last year, while hiking in Yosemite, I dropped my phone in a waterfall. While going the rest of the summer with an internet-free Samsung Solstice seemed horrifying, I actually really enjoyed the peace of not being notified every time it was someone’s birthday on Facebook.
Recently, I have been reading books about how the internet affects our brains (“Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked” by Adam Alter was my favorite) and how our bodies are affected by exposure to nature (“The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative” by Florence Williams). They both make it clear (without being hippy about it) that we are exposed to so much noise both metaphorical and real that even on long, scheduled breaks we may be just as busy as when we are at work or school.
A quick look at Psychology Today shows that vacations are beneficial to both mental health and productivity. There are some basic rules that every one of these articles suggest: planning further in advance, making the most of first and last days of vacation, having good social time and seeking new and unique experiences. But there are deeper issues we need to resolve before getting there.
A McAffee/Intel survey of 14,000 people globally found that 55 percent of Americans who wanted to unplug during vacation did not. Only 49 percent of Americans were able to abstain from work emails. 65 percent of those who did said they had less stress, were better able to absorb their surroundings and had a better vacation when they unplugged. Also, before I hear all these complaints about how my generation can’t put the phone away: the study found that 49 percent of U.S. millennials were willing to unplug while only 37 percent of respondents aged 40-50 were.
The upshot of a bunch of studies included in “The Nature Fix” and articles across the internet is that one should strive to spend 15-30 minutes in nature (like the woods or a field) a day with a longer exposure (like 5 hours) on a weekly or monthly basis and a week of natural vacation at some point during the year.
To keep away from screens, Alter and others advise physically staying away from the devices and learning how to deal with boredom. Remember that Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids children use iPads, Bill Gates instituted screen-time limits for his daughter, and Evan Williams (founder of Blogger, Twitter and Medium) bought his children hundreds of books rather than give them an iPad.
When I go to the Adirondacks, I will be leaving my laptop at home. I will be keeping my phone off of my person to try to experience as much of the frigid mountains I can before returning. I hope to return to Stony Brook refreshed. See you there.