Psychology

Why traveling will not make you happy


I’m in Knossos. I feel like I’m going to burn while I listen to the tour guide. The temperature of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) hinders us from admiring the remnants of the cradle of European civilization. Besides that, I have to pay constant attention to my two-year-old daughter. It makes me feel even more exhausted. I am starting to wonder if looking at a few broken columns is worth all this discomfort. Except for the tourists, no one else is here at this time of the day. After a while, I come to the conclusion that this time it is worth it, but…

with my daughter in KnossosWith my daughter – Pola, in Knossos

Observable places or artifacts are more constant and tangible than feelings or emotions. They are also easier to describe and examine—physical research is much more reliable than research on people’s moods. Because of this, many people find the material side of life to be more important than the emotional one, even though it’s the latter that determines whether we find our lives happy or not.

Instead of taking care of emotions directly, people try to modulate them in a roundabout way. They focus on tangible things, such as money, cars, or visited places, expecting those things to provide them with good feelings. Sometimes this works. And sometimes it doesn’t.

This paradoxical mechanism appears especially often in the case of traveling. People go on holidays to rest from their everyday stress and then they torment themselves with compulsive plans to visit every tourist attraction there is. They have no time to relax while they are trying to beat the record for number of places visited—as if the number itself would equal happiness.

The argument that is often used in such situations is that an individual may never visit that place again, so it’s best not to squander the only occasion. However, there are a lot of things and events that you will never have an occasion to re-experience: for example, reflecting on your current emotions, having a good connection with your own self, experiencing fewer things more profoundly. From time to time, in individual sessions, clients tell me about their disappointment at visiting a lot of places, but getting absolutely nothing out of their trips. This happens when a person is trying to buy an experience instead of focusing on real needs. The same emptiness is experienced by men who try to find self-acceptance and joy in life by having sex with lots of women, or by couples that try to find closeness and passion by re-enacting the whole Kama Sutra.

Happiness as a result of traveling is one of the last commonly undebunked illusions. For many people, it is a synonym for freedom, comfort, and powerful experiences. But I know travelers who don’t feel much joy in life—they have gotten used to visiting new continents, like alcoholics get used to drinking or prostitutes get used to sex. Purchased experiences won’t bring happiness if the psyche won’t let them.

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I remember when I was returning from Joshua Tree to Phoenix and I thought about visiting Las Vegas, as it was only three hours away. I would just go in for a while and see a few streets, buildings, and flashing lights. I decided against it, thinking that losing at least six hours would mean a sleepless night. I wanted to rest after an intensive seminar at Grof Transpersonal Training and gather my energy before visiting the Grand Canyon and Sedona. In retrospect, I don’t regret my decision: I was closer to myself.

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