My boyfriend and I are currently sailing around the southern coast of Australia on a Silversea cruise ship that started out in Auckland. For almost three weeks, we have been wined and dined, pampered and indulged. We have a butler, and he regularly brings us shrimp cocktail and chocolate chip cookies. The entire crew knows our names, and when they’re not busy they happily chat with us about what it’s like to see the entire world from a cruise ship. We sleep with the doors open to the saltwater air, and we particularly love standing over the bow of the ship with pre-dinner coupes of Champagne. A number of people on the boat are over the age of 65, and we have enjoyed the grandparent-like attention. When I got a sunburn despite diligent application of the onboard boutique’s finest suntan lotion, it was a ship-wide scandal; I’m surprised no one threatened to call my mother.
Anyway, I bring this up not to rub it in. I bring it up because being on this ship has reminded me of how important it is actually do stuff with the people you love. It doesn’t have to be a luxury cruise, of course. One of the best decisions we made before boarding the ship was to pack up our bikes and bring them along. We both love to cycle, and having them on the ship has added an extra layer of magic to our voyage. (And an extra layer of scrutiny from the port and starboard grandparents, who were very concerned that we wear our helmets.) But getting off the boat after happy days floating along in the sea, and being able to zip through the lush botanical gardens in Sydney, or window shop in Melbourne, or roll down the pristine boardwalk in Adelaide to gawk at the fishermen and kite surfers, has elevated an already extraordinary experience. Being on the cruise is lovely, but it’s largely a passive experience; taking the bikes out to just wander around on the other side of the world feels like an experience we’re creating for ourselves, and it’s something we both happily recognize as a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
The study of happiness is becoming an increasingly prevalent pursuit, as so many of us are confused by the frequent conflict of our intuition and some of the social messages we’re bombarded with. It’s tough to convince yourself that money doesn’t buy happiness or ten fewer pounds doesn’t equal happiness, when you’re offered that information over and over again. But when I really think back, I realize that I have almost no enduring memories attached to the tangible goods I’ve purchased. For all of the overpriced shoes and dresses I justified for whatever reason, those were always solitary, unremarkable experiences. And for all of the Christmases I’ve had, with the hundreds of dollars (if not more) spent on decorations and gifts, my favourite memories of my family all involve experiences: the cooking class my mother and I took in Beijing, where a cat fell through the thin tarp roof as we tried our best to butcher a chicken; and the long weekend drinking 3 Euro wine with my dad and stepmother in an old Bourdeaux farmhouse.
I realize that it’s easier said than done to get thyself to a luxury cruise in Australia or a 16th century farmhouse, and that’s not totally the point – though I do pour almost all of my money into travel because I find it deeply fulfilling. I’m trying to think about that more and more, whenever I have to make the decision between a new couch or a plane ticket somewhere beautiful. Everyone needs a place to sit. But we also thrive on our happy memories, and they can continue to feed our happiness long after the vacation is over.