How To ‘Design Your Summer’ So You Get A Major Happiness Boost For The Entire Season

Photo: Kristen Curette Hines

While the colorful blooms of spring call to mind new beginnings and productive projects, summer is like a long sigh of relief: three months of long, hot days in which everything feels just a little different.

Well, that’s what it was like when we were kids taking a break from the grind that was school for a full season. But as an adult, summer is a little trickier: What makes this season different from the others, really, when you have a 9-to-5 job and a whole lot of work on your plate? For this reason, happiness expert Gretchen Rubin suggests “designing your own summer.” “Can part of your year be different from the rest of your year, so you have that ‘summer feeling’? [In doing this], I thought to myself, OK, be Gretchen. What really makes me happy; what could I have more of in the summer? For me that’s family, friends, reading, and writing.”

So how can you design a summer that truly rejuvenates you and isn’t just the “thing to do”? Here’s what the experts suggest.

Beware of the travel trap.

While studies show that travel makes us happier, bouncing from one trip to another can be a recipe for burnout—especially if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. “I stumbled across an article lately about how to take an Instagram-worthy vacation, which can certainly create pressure to take lavish or spectacular trips,” explains Alison Stone, LCSW. “It might make you feel as if your vacation isn’t good or exciting enough compared to what others are doing. Vacation is important, but so is making sure that it suits you and your individual circumstances; stretching yourself too thin financially or even with the amount of time off you take may lead to more stress down the road, defeating the entire purpose of taking time off!”

Consider the rejuvenating experience of summertime at home.

Of course, if your ideal summer involves traveling every weekend or taking a few weeks off to go on a long trip, go for it. But a summer at home can be just as—if not more—rejuvenating. “Summertime at home can be incredibly rejuvenating and nurturing,” says neurologist Ilene Ruhoy, M.D., Ph.D. “The extra daylight hours and the sun offer more time to get outdoors, soak up vitamin D, and move our bodies. We can rest in our own homes with our own comfort items.”

She adds that little tweaks go a long way, like raising your blinds first thing in the morning or practicing grounding or earthing in your own backyard. “Take your sandals off and walk barefoot through the grass, the beach, the earth. This connection to the ground beneath us enhances our sense of well-being and improves our health by decreasing anxiety, increasing energy, and lowering inflammatory response,” she explains. “The bounty of fruits and vegetables the summer offers us allows for improved nutritional choices to decrease inflammation, feed our bodies, and get us ready for the fall.”

Create summertime rituals.

Ruhoy suggests finding rituals that fill you with joy and repeating them on a regular basis, all summer long. “Some of my favorite things to do are going grounding or earthing at dusk a few times a week, inviting friends over for an outdoor fresh lemonade gathering each week (you can have fun with different lemonade recipes!), dance at an outdoor concert a few times a month, journal in the park a few times a week, or simply marvel at the sunset.”

Another thing to keep in mind? The “best summer ever” looks different for everyone, so Stone recommends taking stock of your priorities. “Maybe your priority is being more active or catching up on a book you’ve been meaning to read. Use that as a guide to summer planning,” she explains. “Once you’ve figured that out, budget yourself wisely and try to pick one weekend per month, or even one evening per week, that is just for you, and use it to recharge and relax and do that thing that’s really important to you.”

At the end of the day, she explains, you have to choose the ritual that suits your soul—so choose wisely.

Making small pockets of time count.

Nathalie C. Theodore, LCSW, notes that while it can be tempting to say “yes” to every invitation that comes your way in the spirit of living it up all summer long, if you have introverted tendencies you’re probably better off blocking off pockets of time for self-care. “With all of the social events that tend to take place over the summer, you may find your weekends quickly filling up with weddings, graduation parties, baby showers, and barbecues,” she says. “If you feel like you’re spreading yourself too thin, practice self-care by scaling back when possible so you can get some rest and avoid feeling exhausted come fall.”

And if saying “no” isn’t your forte, Stone suggests carving out five- or 10-minute pockets of time to catch your breath. “Find a day of the week that’s typically slower for you (for some it’s Sunday evening), and do some preparation for the week ahead. What needs to get done? When does it need to get done by? Keep yourself organized so that you don’t feel scrambled or fall behind.”



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