Focus on the Family

Q: It seems like every year we look forward to a summer vacation, but it somehow always falls flat and we come home tired and disappointed. How can we change that this year?

Jim: Researchers in the Netherlands set out to measure the effect of vacations on someone's overall happiness. They also wanted to figure out how long the feeling of euphoria lasted. Believe it or not, the largest surge in happiness occurred before the person even left on vacation. In other words, most of us enjoy looking forward to the trip more than actually taking it. Anticipation is often better than realization.

Speaking as a dad of two sons, my most stressful moments are at the airport when we're headed to the vacation. I'm telling the boys to "stay off of that," "don't touch that" or "get off the people-mover." They're just having fun, while I'm frustrated. But the tables turn when we get to the hotel and they find that the pool's been drained -- and then they're frustrated too.

Interestingly enough, there was one caveat within the study I mentioned. If people really and truly relaxed while on vacation, they were just as happy before, during and after the trip.

What's the lesson? You've heard the line in sports: go big or go home. When it comes to taking a vacation, you might try that same logic. Actually "vacate" -- don't try to go on vacation and still work, too. Build plenty of margin into your time away and don't overschedule. Leave some down time and room for spontaneity, and you'll probably be more "up" when you get home.

Q: Our son is turning 10 this month. Many of his friends have had super-extravagant birthday parties with some really pricey gifts. We're not trying to go cheap, but we want to do something that focuses on celebrating him rather than fixating on over-the-top festivities and presents. Any suggestions?

Danny Huerta, Executive Director, Parenting: That's a great way to approach a birthday! Every year of life is a thing to celebrate. If you can direct the celebration toward your son and not make it all about the party, you can make birthdays an opportunity to communicate special value to your child.

Please don't misunderstand me –- I'm not against parties! Taking your son and a few friends to laser tag, a trampoline park or other play places can be a fantastic way to make birthdays fun and memorable. But if his birthday is also a time when your son is reminded of his worth and is encouraged to make strides in character development, you can make an impression that may yield positive results for the rest of his life.

There are lots of simple things you can do toward this end. You may wish to write your son a letter describing his positive qualities and encouraging him to use those in serving others. You can even ask everyone in your family to write a letter about his good traits, then read those notes aloud.

You can choose a character trait that would be appropriate for your son to work on in the coming year of his life, and plan interesting and fun ways to encourage him in his development. Character traits may include responsibility, generosity, kindness –- the list is practically limitless.

Note: This is not the time to point out faults and flaws or try to "fix" your son. This is about giving encouragement and love with no strings attached. I'm sure it will be a memorable time of celebration and affirmation.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at or at


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