Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What You Want


            As spring advances and retreats, more and more of my friends and relations are telling me about their exciting summer plans. And it occurs to me that, uncharacteristically, I have none. One reason is that it’s my intention to read up and do research for my next writing project. With any luck I’ll do some of that in a hammock. But another is that there’s a recession and I’m supposed to be saving money. But aren’t there cheap ways to have fun and see new sites, other than the landscapes provided by Amazon?

            Several ideas pop into my head that don’t require airfare. How about a 4-5  day biking trip through verdant Vermont, one of the most lovable states in the union? A dear friend on the west coast said she was biking through Napa valley with a well -organized group, Vermont Bicycle Tours. After just 2 clicks I discovered that a 5 day trip with some, but not all meals included  would cost $1545 USD. Hmmm. That would be more than $4500 for three: me, my husband and my youngest son—for an experience that would last less than a week. Can that be worth it? Instead, we could pack our bikes onto our car and do-it-ourselves…  planning our own route and most certainly getting lost…schlepping our bikes on the car, and tents on the bikes, and setting up camp after 50 miles of cycling --then cooking, washing up, and sleeping in the rainy, buggy, albeit pristine, New England woods hardly sounds like a vacation to me. When it comes to end of a big day on holiday, I much prefer a hot shower with those twee littletea-tree scented soaps , then spending the night under a thick  duvet--preferably after eating a nice meal served on real, breakable plates—a meal I don’t cook myself, of course.

            The real question is whether any future indulgence is worth it. Will we regret doing without when the market, and our bank accounts recover? After all, youngest sons grow up and aging knees give out. Vermont will always be there, but a summer holiday is highly perishable, especially in Canada. In the Anne Enright short story I  just read, What You Want (part of her brilliant collection of stories, Yesterday’s Weather), an Irish single mom sacrifices the present;  she works as a cleaner in a department store so that in the future her only son will have everything. Then she regrets it. “Jimmy has all the CDs in their box sets… he has it all now,  down to the slice of lime in his gin and tonic, and he never—he very rarely—gives himself away. Oh, be careful what you want.”

             In fact, having 20-20 hindsight about what you want, or looking down from an imaginary perch on the fun you  wished you had makes experiences, even pricey experiences,  worth more to most people than having cash in the bank right now, according to research on “hyperopia,” or  the far-sightedness of planning too far ahead. Ran Kivetza professor of marketing at Columbia Business School, summarized his research this way: “People feel guilty about hedonism right afterwards, but as time passes the guilt dissipates. At some point there’s a reversal and what builds up is this wistful feeling of missing out on life’s pleasures,” he told John Tierney of the New York Times. So the question is not whether I spend a small fortune to huff and puff up the Green Mountains, all for a superb view of church spires from the top. The question is whether I can really get that hill-top perspective while swinging in my hammock down here. 

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