“In moments of awe, nothing feels limiting—certainly not the minutiae of your day’s schedule,” says Dr. Holmes. Even better, when you experience and reflect on awe, you can alter how you perceive time. In one 2012 study in the journal Psychological Science, researchers compared how people felt when reflecting on a happy event versus a truly awe-inspiring one from their own lives. They found that those who recalled the awe said they felt less hurried, and as if they had more time.
Next time you’re off from work, seek out awe-inspiring activities, if you can: Find a nearby scenic trail you can hike, set your alarm to watch the sunrise (but go to bed earlier the night before so you’re not infringing on your sleep), or schedule a visit to a local garden or art exhibit that speaks to you. You might just emerge from your time off a little more satisfied with life in general.
Keep yourself honest with “commitment devices.”
Most activities that bring us joy, awe, and mental rejuvenation are optional, which is why they’re easy to skip (you don’t NEED to meditate or make those peanut-butter-banana pancakes your favorite food blogger posted last week). To prevent yourself from missing out on opportunities that would meaningfully help you recharge, Dr. Holmes suggests employing what behavioral economists call “commitment devices,” or ways to lock yourself into following through on a goal. In terms of prioritizing restful weekend activities, that might mean booking a nonrefundable yoga class, making a coffee date with a friend, or picking up the ingredients for those pillowy pancakes on Friday afternoon. The idea is that you’re more likely to stick to your vacation-like plans if you have a little incentive.
Try not to take the people and things that bring you joy for granted.
Days off are ripe with opportunities to savor ordinary life, and you may be more inclined to do so if you’re aware of time’s fleeting nature, says Dr. Holmes. It’s easy to assume you’ll have plenty of opportunities to have dinner with your aging parents, say, or jog with your dog. But if you think about it, those experiences are finite in number, and you may be able to enjoy them more fully by turning to what Dr. Holmes calls the “times left exercise.”
To get started, think back over the last couple of weeks and identify the moments in which you felt the most joy. These will likely be mundane things involving someone or something you love, Dr. Holmes says, like debating the merits of watching Ted Lasso vs. Schitt’s Creek (again) with your partner or taking the long drive to the pond so your furry friend can take a dip.
Now, count how many times you’ve done that thing, making sure to consider how circumstances change over time. (The Oscars happen every year, but you and your bestie rarely get to watch them together anymore since you don’t share a dorm room; your parents might invite you to dinner every Sunday, but they’re approaching their 70s and might not have decades left.) After you’ve counted roughly how many times you’ve done the beloved thing and approximately how many times you have left, you’ll see, for example, that you’ve experienced 87% of your walks to preschool; you’re 52% done soaking in autumn sunsets; you’ve had 95% of your life’s morning coffees at Grandma’s house.
This exercise isn’t as grim as it may sound. You know that feeling when you look back on a particularly fond memory and wish you realized what you had when you had it? That’s what you’re going for: Cultivating an appreciation for the good things right now, in order to make the weekend—and the rest of your days—more satisfying. “The point isn’t to make us sad,” Dr. Holmes says. “It’s to ensure that we make time for experiences that bring us joy.”