With all the talk about skyrocketing costs of airplane tickets for Thanksgiving, many people I know have decided to stay home this year and keep it low key. But rather than being upset about it, they seem relieved: A casual Thanksgiving with the immediate family instead of a full-on family reunion and hours spent in airports? The very idea seems to be an instant de-stresser.
The decision to live far away from friends and family - combined with the expectation that we still ought to be close and get together as frequently as possible - creates an uncomfortable predicament. Though many are reluctant to admit it even to themselves, getting together with loved ones for the holidays often brings more stress than joy, fanning the flames of family conflicts and fostering new resentments. And when it's over? Well, so is the long weekend, and back to work you go.
But people are not built to function like this - moving from one set of stressors to another, with no sense of relief. A holiday is meant to be a break, a time to relax. Airports and airplanes are not relaxing to most people. Neither are hours spent driving. Despite our society's quest for an ever-better quality of life, it seems that we've unwittingly designed our lives to maximise stress.
Why bring this up on a blog about bicycles? Because the travel-induced stress of the holidays strikes me as the same type of problem as the stress of commuting long distances to work in a car or via public transportation. There is a great deal of new research coming out about the effects of travel and transportation choices on physical health, mental health, familial and social relationships, and overall quality of life. In retrospect, all of the findings are common sense - which only highlights the fact that society as a whole has been moving away from common sense notions of well-being. For those of us who are trying to get back to those notions, the bicycle has been a great help - not only in the immediate sense, but also in the sense of helping us realise all of this at the most basic and visceral level.