It’s Easter. And because I had a some personal time off (PTO) days to burn, I decided to unplug and recharge for two full weeks. And that’s not all. In May – after only three weeks back at the office – I will have another two weeks to relax. This is before my three week annual vacation in July. Sounds good right?
I used to try making most of my breaks by preparing some sort of action plan. In my head that is. With things I wanted to do. Travel, swim, catch up on my reading, improve my DJ skills, (speed) write a novel.
Visit the best cafes/coffee shops.
When I imagined the most blissful part of my breaks, I always pictured myself at sun drenched cafes. Drinking beer, a new exquisite foreign brew, or sipping a splendid whiskey (this his how the Irish spell whisky). Or the best coffee I had ever exposed my taste buds to.
But the interesting thing is that it often turned out that the happiest part of my breaks actually happened way before I (n)ever found that perfect cafe. Way before I drank this (not so) exquisite drink.
Planning my breaks was often more enjoyable than the break itself.
This is not uncommon. While most vacationers enjoy pre-trip happiness, people typically only experience a boost in happiness post-vacation if their trip was relaxing. If their vacation was ‘stressful’ or maybe just ‘neutral’, their post-trip happiness levels are usually much lower.
My breaks are usually enjoyable, but they only very seldom live up to my pre-break imaginations. And when the end of a break is in sight I often can’t escape the feeling I didn’t make most of it. That my break hadn’t been the way I had imagined.
This is interesting. As you all know, I have another break coming up. A big one. It’s ‘life after FIRE’, life after early retirement. Granted, it’s still quite some years in the future, but I must admit I have rather blissful imaginations of it. I will travel and relax, drink the best brews in coffee shops, become a spectator and watch all those stressed people who are too ‘dumb’ to step off life’s activity treadmill. And I will read real newspapers, printed on real paper with real ink. I will have that ink on my fingers as a proof of how wonderfully relaxing my days are. And oh yes, I will finally write that novel I so desperately want to write. And my DJ skills will soar.
I think you get the picture.
But this sounds a lot like enjoying pre-break happiness.
How will I know that at the end of that break, when I am about to leave our planet, I won’t have similar feelings as before? That it hadn’t been the way I had imagined it? That I hadn’t made the most of it?
Practice makes perfect
I have decided to use my current and upcoming breaks to practice for ‘life after FIRE’. If I can avoid this somewhat depressing feeling of not having made most of my breaks, then maybe I have the key to avoiding it when enjoying the mother of all breaks. When I reach FIRE.
How in the world do you practice ‘life after FIRE’?
Do you practice it by doing exactly the same things you plan on doing after you retire? In my case this would be writing, making music, painting, visit coffee shops, watching stressed people, travel.
Not really. I will definitely do all of the above after I retire, but being busy in and of itself needs no practicing as far as I am concerned.
What needs practicing however is to go into a break with the right, realistic mindset and expectations so that my post-break (or late-break) happiness is the same as or even higher than my pre-break happiness.
Should I avoid pre-break happiness? Isn’t that the issue? If you don’t expect anything and avoid being too happy pre-break, you can’t go wrong right? Again, that’s not what this is about.
This is about a) maximizing happiness and b) being as happy post-break as pre-break.
Okay, cool. Here’s the thing.
I planned my breaks, but I refrained from making a specific action plan. And I refrained from imagining blissful moments at sun drenched cafes, drinking only the best coffees or discovering new exotic beers (just because I imagine it doesn’t mean Denmark suddenly turns into a tropical paradise). I planned no activities. And I set no time-bound goals. I didn’t plan on doing nothing either. Bottom line: I didn’t plan (other than getting up each morning at a reasonable time).
Not entirely true of course. Bills need to get paid and my body still needs nourishment, break or no break. But beyond the basics? No idea.
You’re a lazy bastard Marc!
That’s not true either. I’ve fixed some stuff around the house, found myself on a rather sun drenched cafe one late morning (the coffee was average, but their lemon crunch cake was amazing!), finished a long due season five of Breaking Bad, entered a sci-fi writing competition and started writing, went through my cd collection and made a trip down memory lane when I listened to ‘In The Dutch Mountains’, by the Nits.
And I came across a beautifully crafted beer called ‘Hertog Jan Tripel 50 cl’, which I enjoyed on my balcony in the pleasant company of the setting sun.
The common thread? All activities were spontaneous. They’re not part of a plan. They’re not steps towards reaching a specific goal.
What I am doing is implementing a version of ‘la dolce far niente‘. I know I have used this Italian phrase (which translates to ‘the sweetness of doing nothing’) quite a lot lately. But I’d like to make a small amendment and change it into ‘the sweetness of not planning’.
Because thus far this ‘not planning’ becomes me. I feel so utterly relaxed and humbly satisfied with the way each day slowly unfolds and reveals itself. I have yet to experience a moment without a clue of what to do. I haven’t felt bored a single moment, despite the absence of a plan. I follow the sun, say hello good morning and good night sleep well, see you tomorrow. The sun is my clock.
You’re freaking me out Marc! Are you high?
Nope. But I will continue like this. For the duration of my break(s). One day at a time.
My upcoming break in May will be enjoyed abroad by the way. I will visit my dad in my home land after which I will embark on a new road trip with my brother. We planned that a while ago. Before you accuse me of planning after all, I am quite aware you can’t live a life without planning. Not planning at all would be irresponsible. Without a plan I’d never reach FIRE (unless I’d stumble upon a winning lottery ticket). Without planning it would be hard to acquire new skills or write a novel. Without planning humanity would be nowhere.
But it is liberating to live a life less planned and allow more space for spontaneous activities. It only sounds a bit self-defeating that you can actually plan for that. But try it some day.
As for me, I think it will work. I think my post-break happiness will exceed my pre-break happiness. Because I’ll realize I’ve found the key to staying happy, not get bored, for the entire duration of my ‘life after FIRE’.
Bonus paragraph 😉
What do I want people to say about me at my funeral?
He was a mediocre DJ, but finally managed to release a semi-decent track when he was 67? He wrote a novel when he was 72 year old? It sucked, but hey not everyone can write one? He painted a painting in the style of van Gogh. If van Gogh had been around he would have fired his gun on Marc instead of taking his own life? He owned an awesome home in Portugal during his last 10 years?
He was a good man? A good friend? A man you could trust? A man who used the resources he had to help people who – in his opinion – needed it more than he did?
Maybe all of the above. The novel will probably suck. And my paintings or tracks will most likely only make people raise their eyebrows. WTF old man?!
I know what I want people to say about me. I know what to do, before and after FIRE.
Too long, didn’t read
Don’t plan too much! Be spontaneous!
What about you?
Do you ever ‘not make plans’ when ‘planning’ a break?