Wet, Cold, Miserable–and Memorable

Here’s how a wet, cold, miserable Memorial Day weekend might make you happier than the one you’re imagining.

I know what Memorial Day is supposed to look like.

Tips for Happier Vacations

Maybe yours won’t. Maybe your view looks more like this one:

Tips for Happier Vacations

And maybe–bear with me for a minute–that could actually make you happier.

Here’s the thing about vacations and holidays: they’re weighed down by the burden of expectations. That means times we really really feel like need to be happy have to struggle even harder to get there (birthdays and holidays merit a whole chapter in How to Be a Happier Parent).

So when we’ve got the sunshine and the barbecue and the waving flags, we’re often not appreciating it, because we’re too focused on what we don’t have—the red-and-white striped straws, say, or the sister-in-law who is still speaking to us, or the child who isn’t having a tantrum or buried in her iPhone.

But if what we’ve got instead is rain and cold and the depressing prospect of boiled hot dogs instead of hot off the grill, we can let those expectations go–and more importantly, we’ve got a set-up for a Memorial Day you’ll actually remember. The more epic the so-called fail, the more likely you and your family are to hold that day forever in your minds–the wind that flips over the picnic table, the kids who were brave enough to go in the water in spite of blue lips and goose bumps, the way Grandpa’s truck looked after that hailstorm.

Of course, I don’t wish any of that for any of you. But if it happens, try to revel in the horror and the humor, and know that you’re making memories for the long haul.

If you’re fortunate enough to get the blue skies and the sweetest watermelon and the picture-perfect picnic, you’ll have to work harder to remember it. Not that you’ll be complaining.

How can we have both the good day and the memories? Try a strategy I call soaking in the good, both in my book and in the Ten Mantras for Happier Parents, but Laura Vanderkam goes into even more detail in Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done(which I highly recommend). Her suggestions for locking in the memory of a great day:

  • Imagine describing it later.
  • Think back to a time when you really wanted this, or forward to a time when it will be gone.
  • Slow down. Take deep breaths. Look around, and flag details: smells, sounds, the way your body feels right now.
  • Tell those you are sharing the experience with how much you value it, and them, and your time together.
  • Set out to savor the moment, and take time to cement those memories as the day ends.

It’s Memorial Day, after all. Remember those who serve and served—and make some memories, too.

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