THE ROAD TO HAPPINESS

The above photo is a fake. Not the photo itself – that’s real. It was taken a few years ago at the excellent Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. No, it’s just that Amy’s expression is an act, mimicking the hands-on-hips exasperation of the sculpture. In actuality, it was a beautiful day and a serene stroll through the gardens – a lovely afternoon amid an RV journey, spent with some cousins whom we don’t get to see often.

So the frown was faked.

In my last post, I discussed a psychological study – undertaken by an old college professor of mine – that came to this conclusion: Money is better spent on experiences than on material things. It makes us happier.

I figured that was a decent explanation for why so many RVers tend to be grinning their way through America. But it turns out that the positive psychology movement has come up with myriad lessons on how to achieve personal contentment. Five years ago, a writer named Jen Angel (is there a better pen name for the subject matter?) wrote a piece for Yes! magazine in which she distilled many of the findings about what affects are well-being into “10 scientifically proven strategies for getting happy.”

As I read through the list of ten, I can’t help but realize that it further supports the notion of the road trip as a salve for the soul. Consider how each of the ten strategies relates to what Amy and I have planned for our RV excursion this summer:

SAVOR EVERYDAY MOMENTS
Stop and smell the roses, they say. It’s an opportunity afforded by the flexibility of a house on wheels. You’re traveling on your terms. No rush. It’s not a drive; it’s an exploration. So we’ll be savoring the view from Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. And the taste of fried peanuts in Plains, Georgia. And the sounds of the surf in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

AVOID COMPARISONS
In other words, don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. It is one of the benefits and lessons of leaving the daily bubble of your existence for a trek into new territory. We’ll be staying at campgrounds in places like Evansville and Jacksonville and Louisville. Our neighbors will have pop-up trailers and fifth-wheels and Type A’s and Type C’s. They’ll have driven from Missouri or Mississippi or Massachusetts. On the road, there are no Joneses.

PUT MONEY LOW ON THE LIST
The more we seek satisfaction in material goods, the less we obtain it. It harkens back to my professor’s study – that participatory experience trumps possessions. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we feel like we save money on food and lodging by eating home-cooked meals and sleeping in the same bed every night in the RV. And many of our planned activities – say, a visit to Nashville’s Centennial Park or a stroll through downtown Savannah – are free.

HAVE MEANINGFUL GOALS
The goal, say the experts, is to engage in activities that are both meaningful and enjoyable. Aspirations are energizing. So one of our goals this summer is to drive the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, every mile of it being a dose of history and scenery.

TAKE INITIATIVE AT WORK
Express creativity. Suggest improvements. Rewarding work feels less like work. Effort matters. I would suggest that working from the road – as many folks do nowadays, thanks to the explosion of wireless technology – is even more rewarding. This summer, when we’re not exploring, I’ll be writing and Amy will be consulting (marketing) while we’re parked in places like Charleston and Charlotte.

MAKE FRIENDS, TREASURE FAMILY
Happier people tend to have deeper relationships. I’m not sure which causes which, but facts are facts. We further those relationships every summer by dropping in on friends and family in places we otherwise might never have visited. This summer, we’ll be seeing everyone from a college pal in Asheville to a great aunt on Georgia’s St. Simons Island to a couple – in Love, Virginia – whom we met on our very first RV excursion 17 years ago.

SMILE EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE IT
Basically, you happier when you look at the glass half-full. I must admit, I’m a born pessimist. I like to rationalize it is a necessary antidote to Amy’s sunny outlook. Realism, I call it. But optimism can be learned. And on the road, when there is literally a new adventure around every corner, it is more easily practiced. Oh, and we’re planning on spending an afternoon touring the quirkily-named towns of eastern Kentucky. One of them happens to be called Happy.

SAY THANK YOU LIKE YOU MEAN IT
Gratitude journals. Thank-you notes. Those things tend to increase optimism, which leads to contentment. We’ll be driving through North Carolina and Fort Bragg, where we hope to meet up with a couple of friends. He’s in the military. Good time to say thanks.

GET OUT AND EXERCISE
Regular exercise is not only a health issue. Apparently, it boosts self-esteem, releases feel-good endorphins and offers an opportunity for positive social interaction. It flexes our happy muscles. That’ll help keep the legs moving as we hike through the Smoky Mountains.

GIVE IT AWAY
Altruism elicits a so-called “helper’s high.” Good, because one of our tasks this summer is to spread the word about the first book from a publishing venture that Amy and I have launched – Why Not Books (www.whynotbooks.com). Our goal is to partner each book with a relevant nonprofit and donate a portion of the proceeds to the charity. The picture book, FRANCIS AND EDDIE, tells the tale of the 1913 U.S. Open – a Seabiscuit/Rocky kind of golf story. So that necessitates a stop at World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Florida. Why not, right?

Come to think of it, golfers tend to be a happy lot, too, at least when they’re hitting it straight. Then again, clearly I prefer meandering.