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Vacation can give lifetime of happiness

  • Published Thursday, March 31, 2011, at 12:06 a.m.

It had been awhile since our family took a real vacation, the kind where you book rooms and reserve skis and plan menus and fill the tank and pack board games and find the travel pillows.

For one thing, we try to watch our budget. And after paying for such luxuries as soccer shoes and pizza, there's not a lot left for travel.

Also, I love staycations. I find vegging at home, free from school or work obligations, to be the epitome of relaxation. Last spring break we saw a few movies, played Rummikub, rode bikes and cleaned out the garage, and you could have convinced me I had hit the jackpot behind Door No. 3.

This year, though, we decided to ski. Or rather, some friends decided to ski and urged us to join them, and we agreed because the plan both lowered the cost and increased the frivolity. (Ain't no party like a ski lodge party. With people you like.)

It was, in fact, a blast, but a whole different experience from past ski trips. Back before kids, Randy and I couldn't wait to hit the lifts, race to the bottom and ride up again. We had beers on the mountain and quiet dinners by the fire.

This time the real thrill wasn't carving our own trail through the snow but watching our children carve theirs, discovering a pastime we love but nearly forgot.

Hannah and Jack struggled through their first lesson, crammed and cringing in those awful boots but buoyed by Callie, their sweet, smiling, golden-haired instructor.

Jack spent that evening flattened by altitude sickness. Hannah cried at the thought of those toe-crushing boots. We encouraged them to stick with it because, as parents say in those hot, sticky, two-hour lines at Walt Disney World: "We paid for this vacation, and it's really expensive, and doggone it, YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE FUN!"

Not really. But sort of.

The next day was better. By Day 3, the kids were off the bunny hill and riding the chairlifts, zipping around me like spring-crazed squirrels. So did John, our friends' 6-year-old son, who waved and yelled whenever he saw us: "Way to go! Good job!"

At one point Hannah turned to her brother and motioned toward the lift. "Wanna ride with me this time, Jack? Wanna be my ski buddy?"

I smiled. So did Randy, who agreed that watching their fun expanded ours tenfold. We were watching memories in the making.

According to the New York Times, new studies of consumption and happiness show that people are happier when they spend money on experiences — vacations, concert tickets, French lessons, cooking classes — instead of material objects. The research suggests that vacations, in particular, give long-lasting happiness because we airbrush them with "rosy recollection."

"Trips aren't all perfect," says psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, "but we remember them as perfect."

Perhaps I'm just rationalizing our spring-break expense. No doubt staying home would have been cheaper and more relaxing.

But then I remember Jack's windblown face, smiling beneath his helmet and goggles at the end of Day 2.

"When can we ski again?" he said, panting.

"Tomorrow," I said. "We've got another whole day."

"I mean, when's our next trip?"

I suppose that's called creating a monster.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com.

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