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How to Find Joy in a Vacation You Cannot Take

Even if you can't travel, you can learn to make others' joy your own.

Malia and Mara
Here's a summer tale. The last time I was in New York City was about 20 years ago—August, 1992. I took my then-teenaged daughter, Mara, to see The Big Apple. In August of 2011, my husband, Tony, took Mara's own daughter—our granddaughter Malia—to see NYC.

Tony and Malia did the same things that Mara and I did in 1992. They took in the sights. They went to Broadway shows. They rode the subway. They walked all over Manhattan. Mara and I saw Miss Saigon and The Secret Garden. Tony and Malia saw Wicked and Billy Elliot.

Truth be told, I struggled with my inability to accompany them on this trip. But, due to poor health, I could not go. You may be healthy enough to travel but not be able to for financial reasons. Life can be tough. So, instead of packing my bags, I decided to work on finding joy in this trip I could not take. 

First, I got actively involved in planning it by doing research on the web and making reservations for them online. I found the site for the Empire State Building because I wanted to see when they could take the elevator to the observation deck.

Observation deck, 1936, photographer unknown
That site led me to a link where I bought two CityPASS booklets which allowed them, at a fraction of the cost, to go to half a dozen places—from the Statue of Liberty to the Guggenheim Museum.

I found discounted Broadway ticket sites online that displayed the seating charts for each theater, and so I was able to pick the actual seats they'd be sitting in for Wicked and for Billy Elliot. Clicking on those seats to reserve them was a particularly joyful experience for me.

Second, I cultivated mudita about this trip I could not go on. I discussed mudita in a recent post on what are called the four sublime states in Buddhism. These are qualities of mind that can help alleviate our suffering, in this case, my suffering over not getting what I wanted—going with them to New York.

Mudita means feeling joy in the joy of others. I thought I was in good shape with my mudita practice, that is, until I began getting text messages and pictures they'd email me from New York! The desire to be with them overwhelmed me at first. I could feel it physically as an ache in my stomach. But I could also feel their joy, so I kept practicing.

The essence of mudita is feeling joy just knowing that others are happy and content. And so, I visualized what they were doing each day. It helped that I've been to New York. I know that spiral ramp in the Guggenheim where you walk from the top to the bottom, viewing pictures as you go. I imagined that maybe Malia had started running down the ramp. Or, maybe she was frozen in place in front of a painting that she

couldn't take her eyes off of, just like she was in this picture I love so much that Tony snapped of her at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.

When I visualized their big adventure, I not only felt joy in their joy but I felt as if the two of them were in New York for me and so I, too, was filled with joy.

Finally, as I was preparing this piece, I realized that just writing about their trip made me feel, in the smallest but sweetest way, as if I had been there with them.

Note: The theme of this article is expanded on in Chapter 17 ("Appreciative Joy: An Antidote to Envy and Resentment") of my book, How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow

© 2011 Toni Bernhard

Thank you for reading my work. My most recent book is titled How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow.

I'm also the author of the award-winning How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers

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