After returning from vacation, I’m trying a simple trick to be just as happy during my daily life

Nantucket surfside beach
A Nantucket beach. (I didn’t take this photo.) Bob P. B./Flickr

There are few things more depressing than the plane ride home from a relaxing vacation — and so it was when I travelled back from Nantucket last week, after six days of sunshine and ice cream and beach reads and the general freedom to do whatever I pleased.

My vacation companions and I trudged through the airport in silent acknowledgment of our reentry into “real life,” one in which we were expected to be busy and productive and often stressed out.

But at some point in the days that followed, it occurred to me that the trip hadn’t been anything extraordinary — we hadn’t, say, travelled to a foreign country or scaled the world’s tallest mountain. And I started to wonder: Why couldn’t I live every day like it was a vacation day? Maybe I could.

I jotted down some of the experiences I’d enjoyed most while away: Getting absorbed in a novel. Taking long walks, sometimes through town, sometimes on the beach. Making pizza from scratch. Simply sitting outside on a sunny day. Again, nothing too crazy.

Which is why my mission going forward is to learn how to incorporate these activities into my daily routine. To be sure, it will be considerably harder, given that I work in an office roughly eight hours a day.

But I’m awake for about 16 hours a day — meaning that theoretically, there’s plenty of time to do stuff besides work. It’s a matter of prioritising the activities I truly enjoy.

Time-management expert and author Laura Vanderkam recently wrote that people generally have more free time than they think. Once you realise that (for example, by tracking the way you spend your time), Vanderkam says you can make better choices about how you spend yours.

I haven’t started keeping time logs, but I know that on a weekday, even after going to work, going to the gym, and eating dinner, I’ve still got a few hours of wind-down time before going to bed.

Why not schedule an hour of novel-reading time the same way I’d plan a workout or a dinner date with a friend? Or, maybe one day I’ll schedule some time for baking or cooking instead.

During the workday, I can do a few laps around the park that’s near my office — I can even leave my phone behind. There’s no way I don’t have 20 or 30 minutes to spare for some outdoor exercise every afternoon, especially given that it will probably make me more productive when I return.

My recent insights called to mind a study I reported on last year, which found that people who really value general happiness report lower well-being — but people who value positivity in their daily lives report higher well-being. The study author recommends that people schedule their days around activities they really enjoy, which will in turn make them happy.

Sure, I might not feel quite the same as I did while on vacation, but maybe — just maybe — I’ll feel better. I’ll get do to fulfilling work and relaxing, enjoyable activities, all in the same day.

Or maybe not. I’m planning to give it a try and see what happens.

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