It’s late summer now and you might be thinking it’s time to squeeze in a last minute vacation. Or maybe you’ve been looking forward to a long-planned one to some distant location. This is just what I need, you’re thinking. I can’t wait to get out there on the beach…or the mountains…or those beautiful ruins.
We think we can escape from our job. From our problems. From our depression. From our low-grade dissatisfaction with our ordinary lives. But what do we find when we arrive to the exotic location? After we check in to the hotel or the Airbnb? We find, after the rush wears off, that we don’t feel any different. We brought ourselves with us…the true source of our unhappiness.
Seneca was an avid traveler who saw how often his fellow tourists were in denial, how they foolishly thought a change of scenery could exempt them from the real inner-work they needed to do. He liked to quote Epicurus who said that “every man flees himself.” We can imagine Seneca enjoying the lyric from a song by Alice in Chains: heaven beside you…hell within.
That’s why vacations often disappoint. Because as beautiful as they are, as much as we design them for relaxation, they are incapable of overriding our anxiety and our dysfunction. If our soul is tense, no amount of massages will relax it. If our mind is chaos, no amount of time in the water will order it. If our life is a mess, eventually we’ll have to return to it–and all the tours and long dinners will evaporate it in a minute.
If you want to be happy, if you want to relax, look inward. Do the work. Not only will you be happier at home, but you’ll enjoy your time on the road more too.