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Summer officially starts today, brimming with delicious potential. You may think you don’t need to schedule summer fun — it just happens, right? Well yes, sometimes, but research shows it helps to plan for it.
Well Family is declaring this the Intentional Summer, and we’re here to help you avoid regrets over missed opportunities. Every week, we’ll offer research-based suggestions for ways to set this season apart from the rest of the year.
The sense that summer fun slips through our fingers is real, and it’s reflected in how people report feelings of health and well-being over the course of a 24-day vacation: Our positive feelings increase quickly at the outset, peak about one-third of the way through and then start a downward slide toward our baseline happiness — and sadly, leave us back there about a week after we return to work.
Jessica de Bloom, the researcher on that and other studies on vacation and happiness, suggested that we take time to consider how we can maximize our summer pleasure, even when we’re not on vacation. A sense of autonomy — of making active decisions about how we spend our time — is one of the elements that helps us enjoy our free time.
“Make ordinary evenings and weekends more memorable,” she said. Do the things you normally do “a little bit differently. Take a bike instead of the bus” or car. Research also suggests that people appreciate their leisure most when it includes elements of challenge, connects us with the people we care about, or helps us to feel a sense of purpose, she said.
To add some or all of those elements to these few weeks of summer, planning is essential. As a bonus, planning and anticipating something new can boost our happiness. Once we’re carrying out our plans, said Dr. de Bloom, we need to detach from our usual roles (and our gadgets), relax and savor the experience.
Join us! Every week for the next two months, we’ll propose a simple challenge to help connect you to the season and to the people you love. We’ll be listening to your feedback. Expect fresh ways to get outdoors, get moving (and slow down) and flavor your summer.
Having started with the solstice, we’ll end with another astronomically notable event: the annual Perseid meteor showers, which occur every August and peak this year around the 12th of the month (start thinking now about where you can find some dark sky to watch those “shooting stars”).
This week’s challenge: Walk or bike to somewhere you would normally drive or reach via public transportation. Pick a short distance that might turn into a summer ritual (a bike ride to the library, for example) or a longer trek.
A friend and I once took an entire summer day to walk from his apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan down to Battery Park City, something I still remember over a decade later. And that’s exactly the point, said Gretchen Rubin, the author of “Better Than Before” and host of the “Happier” podcast. “Life feels richer when some parts of it are different.” Routine days run together into a single memory, while special things stand out.
If you’re walking with children, let them help pick a destination, mode of transport and route. Leave enough time to enjoy unexpected discoveries along the way, whether it’s a street fair or a turtle living in the run-off ditch by the side of the road.
Let us know how you do by commenting here or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org before next Tuesday, June 28. Was it more fun than you expected, or did things go wrong? Would you do it again? Did you make a day your family will remember? You can also share on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (#intentionalsummer).
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We’ll share reader stories and post next week’s challenge on Thursday, June 30. The real goal: to savor the summer all season long.