A few years ago, while trying to plan a long weekend away for our family, we decided to get some input from our kids. We gave them a few ideas – maybe Chicago, or even St. Louis. We could hike in southern Ohio or visit the huge amusement park near us. Without even considering all of our great suggestions, they immediately and unanimously chose Silver Lake, the tiny spot in Western Michigan that our family has been visiting for years.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Silver Lake, Michigan has become one of our family’s “happy places.” By that I mean it’s one of probably three spots in the country that we all love and long for. We’ve visited these places many times, and over the years, they’ve become ours; their smells, sights, and sounds embedded into who we are as a family.
If your family doesn’t have a happy place, I’m here to encourage you to find one! There are so many positive reasons to keep going back to a place that has special meaning to your family. Here are a few:
Because we’ve visited so many times, even the first glimpse of the lake and sand dunes in Michigan can bring back a flood of memories; our kids at different ages, discussions around the campfire, meals we’ve prepared and shared at the picnic table. The smell of the pine trees, the sandy bottom of the lake, the icy waters of Lake Michigan, and the tall, proud lighthouse all have meaning for us. Meaning they wouldn’t have if we were experiencing them for the first time. Our family history is tangled up with this place (all the way back to my dad’s childhood). When we visit, we not only make new memories, we get to relive past ones, to reminisce and reflect on who we are and where we’ve been.
On top of a sand dune in 2006
Sometimes when we travel, I drive my family nuts. I love to maximize our vacation potential, which is a nice way of saying that I don’t want to miss a single good thing! I spend lots of time researching the best restaurants, best tours, best routes to drive, etc, etc, etc. At one of our happy places, though, I’m free to simply relax. We already know that Whippy Dip has the best ice cream, Mac Woods has the best dune rides, and Little Sable Point is our favorite beach. We don’t ask for directions, miscalculate travel time, or constantly check Google maps. The decisions are fewer, the choices easier, the energy and focus spent instead on relationships and people.
Cousins relaxing by Silver Lake in 2010
Adopting a special place for your family also helps strengthen your unique family identity. That place becomes something your family shares. For example, the Huards camp (in a tent) at Silver Lake, they hike to waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest, and enjoy spring break trips to Siesta Key, Florida. We also root for the Tigers, eat popcorn for dinner on Sundays, and love to ride bikes. All kinds of interests and activities can contribute to a strong sense of family identity. A happy place is just one, but one that we’ve found to be particularly meaningful. It’s our family identity that helps bind us to one another, gives us a sense of belonging, and keeps us connected throughout years and generations.
On the sand dunes overlooking Silver Lake in 2013
If your family doesn’t have a special happy place, try finding one this summer. Ours are scattered around the eastern half of the US – Michigan, North Carolina, and Florida. Two we stumbled upon by accident, and one was handed down to us, a beautiful sort of family inheritance. Yours might be the nearest state park to your house, a foreign country, or even a grandparent’s pond.
Does your family already have a happy place? I would LOVE to hear about it! Whether it’s Disney World, a local lake, or the south of France, leave a comment and tell me where it is. After all, we love our happy places, but we’re also always open to exploring new territory!