Why Elders Need Vacations Too

The other day some of us were sitting around talking about the importance of paid vacation and we began wondering how more generous vacation policies would impact different groups of people -- workers, children, mothers, etc. Naturally, we talked about ourselves, and then we started to laugh.

Why? We were all retired! We had been discussing the importance of being "elders" instead of "seniors." We thought seniors were people who get discounts, while elders get respect! We were in the process of exploring what this means when I mentioned the campaign for guaranteed paid vacations, and our group wondered how it was relevant to us.

So we laughed at first, but the more we talked, the more we realized that paid vacation is actually very important to us. In fact, one member of our group reminded the rest of us that it really would benefit us because maybe we would get to see our kids and grandkids more! It would be beneficial to all elders because in our big country we're all scattered about and we often have to travel long distances to see each other, and that takes time. Vacations bring us together, and longer ones would make it that much more possible to see each other. Talk about promoting family values!

But we realized there was something more. Paid vacation is almost an emblematic issue -- it stands for so much. As we thought about the idea of being elders, we realized that our culture's view of time affected us deeply: for instance, older people are diminished and devalued because we are no longer going to a job everyday. Because we aren't doing paid work, our time is not considered "productive" so we are viewed as irrelevant. We realized that paid vacations could change peoples' attitudes -- help people understand the idea of "time" in a broader way, as a human right that says everyone has the right to a full life.

Further, as Elders we were concerned with the idea of wisdom -- something that involves thinking about our experiences-- an activity that takes time! Wisdom is about taking time to slow down and pay attention. Taking time to ponder and reflect. It's not something we learn in our culture. Could vacations help all of us, not just Elders, learn that?

Because we were born in a slower, less "productive" era, most of us had grown up with a larger sense of time. Perhaps, if we had never experienced that sense of divine leisure on the vacations that were so much a part of family life when we were young, we would never have learned to experience time lived in a way that facilitates thinking and feeling deeply and living joyfully.

Perhaps we would have never learned to take time to connect to others –the most important ingredient in well-being and longevity. One thing we learn as we become Elders is that we need to live in interdependence -- everyone helping each other, everyone participating. And that's something that takes time. So vacations are symbolic -- they stand for a view of time that says there's more to life than working constantly.

We were excited as we finished our conversation. We'd all read a book called The Making of an Elder Culture by Theodore Roszak. He said that now that we are Elders, Boomers like us should be thinking about what kind of legacy we can leave for the next generations and part of that legacy is the gift of time and what it means.

Studies show that the strongest memories people have of their childhoods come from vacation experiences. They help bond generations together. As elders we can help others understand the importance of slower, more leisurely, time and the value of longer vacations for everybody. So now I'm working with Millennials and people from other generations to change our vacation policies. And that will be a legacy worth leaving.

Cecile Andrews is the Chair of the Take Back Your Time Board of Directors. She has a PhD in education from Stanford University and is the author of Circle of Simplicity, Slow is Beautiful, Less is More, and Living Room Revolution.