When I moved to New York years ago, I didn’t think much of summer. I grew up in Tel Aviv, where it’s always warm, and I was surprised to see my neighbors getting all excited at the first signs of spring.
Starting April, they prepared long lists of things to do, places to go, and events to book. It seemed silly to me that everyone was talking about their summer plans months in advance. Then September came and I realized the cost of my complacence. Out of the eight weekends of my children’s summer break, three were struck by summer thunderstorms, and two were wasted lazing around or shopping.
The remaining three weekends were fun, but way too short. Before I could even realize it, the winds of fall were in the air, and everyone started thinking about Halloween costumes. Summer was gone and I learned my lesson. The following year, as soon as the snow melted, my wife and I sat down and started to plan.
In New York, as in many places in the country, summer is a fleeting moment. You emerge slowly from five months of snow straight into pouring rain (trying to comfort yourself that “April showers bring May’s flowers”), reseed your lawn and spring-clean your house, and before you know it, you’re already shopping for school supplies. Pair this transience with the fact that we are biologically programmed to recharge and reproduce in this time of year , and you quickly realize that summertime is a narrow window of opportunity to enjoy the things you like to do, together with the people you love.
If you are now starting to plan ahead, here are some science-based tips for a summer full of activities that are bound to turn into lasting happy memories:
1. Use Stuff You Already Have
We live in a consumer-driven economy and all of us buy tons of stuff. Take a walk around your house and look for things you bought in the past but haven’t yet fully enjoyed. Recent research in positive psychology has shown that unlike the ownership of possessions, experiences have great positive staying-power . You may have many weeks of unlocked fun in locked-up in your closets or in your basement. Play the guitar you bought on eBay, try the camping gear that you’ve never unboxed, use the toolset you got for Christmas, or the restaurant gift certificates that are about to expire. All this stuff is lying around waiting to be enjoyed, and summer is the perfect time to do that.
2. Enjoy it Before, During, and After
The joy of great experiences starts long before their first day and can last months and years later. Allocate ample time for planning in the months to come, involve the entire family, and be sure to enjoy thinking of different possibilities together. Then when summer is almost over, make time for a little reminiscing and revisiting. If you’re planning a vacation, make the time in your calendar to research possible destinations, to imagine what it would be like, and to list different possible activities to choose from. When you’re back, make the time to arrange your picture into albums, edit videos, and share the fun you had.
3. Connect with Nature
Various research studies (e.g. , ) have shown that scenes of nature evoke a spectrum of positive emotions like playfulness and affection. The experience of being in nature, enjoying the sights, the sounds, scents, and textures, is a unique contributor to our well-being. In modern society many of us live and work in urban environments, where nature is out of our daily route, and the experience of nature is isolated to specific locations like parks. Summer is when nature around you is bursting out. Allot some time in your summer calendar for hiking trips and park strolls, and go with your family and friends to enjoy it together.
4. Get Away
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines vacation as “a period of time that a person spends away from home, school, or business usually in order to relax or travel”. Summer is the best time to go to a different location, disconnect from your daily routine and pause all work, errands, and chores. Research studies consistently demonstrate that people who regularly go away enjoy better sleep, stronger social bonds, less stress, and an overall higher level of well-being . If you can, plan on going away at least once during the summer months, together with the people you love. When you’re back, allocate “buffer time” in your schedule to unpack and slowly go back, so that you can continue to relax when you’re home.
5. Create New Memories
Years ago, my family went on vacation to Lake George. It was a long drive from the city, and my son, who was three at the time, slept the whole way. He continued to sleep through dinner, and then woke up just around midnight, alert and ready to roll. I had to stay up with him all night and entertain him. We took a walk on the shore, saw the gasoline tanker bring fresh fuel to the gas station at 3am, and had a delicious Pizza together with college students just before dawn. Today, years later, the memories of that night live on, and have become a cornerstone of our family’s folklore. When you plan this coming summer, remember that your experiences are temporary, but shared memories are perpetual. If things don’t go according to plan, go with the flow and see where it takes you. You may discover that your most precious memories come from these small, magical surprises.