Relax, You’re On Island Time Now

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What makes a vacation?

Some would argue it’s simply a change of scenery devoid of your traditional responsibilities. Others would suggest that it’s two weeks entrenched in an unhurried, relaxed atmosphere - the antithesis of the way in which most of us play out our day-to-day lives.

America is the only developed country lacking an annual minimum number of vacation days; it’s left to employers to offer paid vacation packages and benefits of their own accord. The nation’s average is 10 paid vacation days after 1 year of employment while countries like Sweden have not a maximum but a minimum: at least 25 days paid vacation time.

Many studies have been conducted on the psychological and physical benefits of vacationing. While the idea is somewhat counterintuitive, it’s been proven that time away is of more benefit to a worker’s productivity than any other behavior.

Adam Galinksy, professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, has studied the topic in excess; according to his findings, simply having days off from work is not enough. It requires a change of scenery to galvanize the mind and provide perspective that would not have come if it weren’t for new exposure. As a matter of fact, as far as creativity goes, benefits were best reaped when someone was living abroad for a certain period of time.

A 2011 article from US News quoted clinical psychologist Francine Lederer:

"The impact that taking a vacation has on one's mental health is profound…most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation..."

Additionally, a 2010 survey by Expedia showed that the average French employee racked up a whopping 37 days of paid vacation time, taking advantage of all but two of those days.

As France has yet to implode, the finding is enlightening.

Perhaps the most important ramification, however, is that countries providing employees the most benefits also have the highest percentage of residents that identify as being happy in their lives; statistics from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) found that Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands and Sweden topped the list in that order.

There are certain regions best known for cultural norms that foster a lifestyle which lends to relaxation, satisfaction, happiness and lack of stress. Best described as running on “island time,” these countries and states are the very destinations those employees choose to travel to for vacation.

Joseph Attard, who lives on the island of Malta, summarizes the island life:

“Living on a small island implies always having people that you know around you, not just your relatives and your closest friends but the men and women you work with, people that you know only by sight and all sorts of other acquaintances. It's almost like living in a large extended family and hence as a general rule the great majority of the towns-folk perhaps subconsciously tries to stick to the inbred rules of the social circle. Which is a good thing, in my opinion since there [are] less underhanded activities and more harmony. In the big cities no one knows anybody else or cares about anybody else. Nobody nods at you as you brush shoulders on the sidewalks much less smiles a good morning at you.”

And while not all regions with an island vibe are geographically isolated, these habits are cultivated by their cultures.

Let’s take a look at how five different regions developed each of their unique forms of “island time.”

Microsleep in Mexico.

Mexican site Mexperience.com says it best:

“[People move to Mexico for] the opportunity to get access to a new culture and different way of life to theirs; a better quality of life, or a slower pace of life in an environment with more time to appreciate people and culture.”

Welcome to Tierra del Encanto.

Mexico has a rich yet violence-laden back-story. Once the Spanish landed and conquered the Aztecs in 1521, European influences embedded themselves into their way of life and created the culture we now know and experience.

Mexicans prioritize family and time spent with that family, a feature many would say America seems to lack.

And as Ken Ellingwood of the LA Times puts it,

“In Mexico, punctuality is a foreign concept.”

This is one characteristic that speaks to Mexico’s shared history with Spain; in both countries, everything from social meet-ups to public transportation is expected to come to fruition much later than the scheduled hour.

This phenomenon has been perpetuated by a lack of access to modern technology for the average Mexican as well as the idea that what has been scheduled out for today could easily be done tomorrow as well, if necessary: mañana.

“Ahorita,” a term for “now,” is also a bit fuzzy. “Now” very rarely remains synonymous with “imminently.” It more often means “in an hour” or sometimes two.

One retiree living in Mexico, Ken Luboff, puts it aptly:

“Mexicans view time as circular, not linear like us in our goal-oriented society. Doing things according to a precise time schedule is not viewed as important, it can always be done later, mañana. Besides, working like a robot or to a rigid schedule is seen as taking the spice out of life.”

It’s very common for retirees to target locations like Mexico and South America, as the cheap prices, weather and slow pace is ideal for our golden years.
As reporter Larry Waight writes,

“The positive effects that being in nature has on your mental well-being are also well documented. Clearing your mind of distractions can improve focus, creativity, and memory. What’s more, the healthy habits inherent to island living (i.e. an active lifestyle, better eating habits, and reduced exposure to chemicals and pollution) have been proven to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s by as much as 90%.”

Accompanying casual social norms are business-oriented norms; monetary agreements move slowly and a personal relationship is typically built up prior to those agreements. Also, in keeping with the importance of family within the culture, business between international parties must very often be presented as having some benefit to the Mexican people. Deadlines are also defined very differently, as in, there are none.

Make yourself at home in Hawaii.

For all adults aged 65, the highest healthy life expectancy was observed in Hawaii (16.2 years) and the lowest was in Mississippi (10.8 years). Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found these results in 2013.

According to a Huffington Post article,

“The slowed-down, low-stress island lifestyle gives Hawaiians a major health advantage. Less than one-third of Hawaiian residents say they're stressed out on any given day, making them the least-stressed state population in the country.”

Logically, then, Hawaii is America’s go-to state for a leisurely foray into “island time.”
Hawaii didn’t even join U.S. territory until 1898; the state’s ability to develop its own identity as a separate entity from the rest of the U.S. may have played in its favor. Polynesians and Tahitians had approximately 300 years to instill their culture into the islands prior to the landing of the Protestants in the 1800s, which led to their eventual industrialization and subsequent meet with America.

The sport of surfing was first documented there in 1779; it was all downhill from there. Surfing, as well as a laid-back community and beach-centric lifestyle, combine to illustrate the essence of Hawaiian culture.

The Aloha State is also the only one within the U.S. to grow coffee, but it’s appreciated more as a form of art than a tool for productivity.

Cease & sekkle in Jamaica.

Patois, or Jamaican Creole, is an English-based Creole language which takes bits and pieces of English words while altering pronunciation. Slaves taken from Africa created the language while adopting the English their British captors spoke. The shortened, flowing, relaxed phrases (“mi a go a door” = I am going outside or “a weh ya baan?” = where were you born?) are an apt reflection of the region’s culture.

The Arawak people who originally inhabited Jamaica were conquered by the Spanish, who were then conquered by the British. The country has seen its fair share of contention.

With this knowledge, it stands to reason that the development of the Rastafari movement was an organic process. It was started to bring empowerment to the Africans brought there to work as slaves. Haile Selassie I, the religion’s prophet, is considered a champion for peace and brotherhood, epitomizing all that the Jamaicans did not have for so long.

Though Christianity is the dominant religion within the nation, Rastafarian beliefs have been irrevocably engrained within the lifestyle of the Jamaican people, giving rise to another example of a region on “island time.”

Siesta in Spain.

A nation where everything happens just a little bit later; wake up at noon, have lunch at two, nap at six and have dinner at ten (restaurants don’t even serve until nine p.m.) The key factor here is that Spain is an incredibly social country, akin to Mexico in the way that family and friends take extreme precedence over making a deadline, and also in the way that the mañana factor has a very real presence.

Festivals are a major facet of Spanish culture and are seen as landmarks throughout a year even more so than the progression from one month to another. Every individual city has its own holidays and form of celebration, encouraging a consistent sense of fun and perpetuating the ideology that life should be lived to the fullest.

Spaniards are famous for their friendly, accessible demeanors which are fostered by a communal, unified culture.

Ironically, though Spain is not an island, they are arguably the most apt example of “island time” we’ve discussed.

Spain went through years of dictatorship and unjust rule before converting to a democratic government quite late in our world’s history.

After a long-standing culture fueled by the morals of the Catholic church, a revolutionary shift in economic practices diversified the country, allowing more contemporary values to take hold.
After having experienced decades of instability and hardship, the concept that a fun, laid-back and social lifestyle is more important than anything else makes perfect sense.

Chill in California.

As California stems from both Spanish and Mexican cultures, it’s only natural that that lax lifestyle has stuck.

The state has a media-perpetuated stereotype across the world; surfers around every street corner, board shorts over business attire and celebrities with bikinis hiding behind every $100 tank top. It seems that the Beach Boys have become our poster children, but the stereotype has a valid birthplace.

California has five of the world’s 50 best surf spots, as per a 2013 list by CNN and publications like National Geographic have proven these spots are not just exclusive to southern regions via their coverage of hidden spots like the “Lost Coast” that lies north of San Francisco.

Though not every city within the state is covered with sand and bordered by the Pacific, the California coast is renowned for its beauty and the easy lifestyle that accompanies it.


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Stephan Aarstol is an American internet entrepreneur and author of the book The Five Hour Workday, which is based on Tower Paddle Boards' invention of the 5-hour workday in 2015 that would eventually spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. Since founding Tower in 2010, it has gone on to become one of America's fastest growing companies and Mark Cuban's best investment in the history of Shark Tank. Tower has diversified into a direct to consumer electric bike company called Tower Electric Bikes, a beachfront event venue called Tower Beach Club, and NoMiddleman.com, where consumers can shop all the world's finest direct to consumer brands from one easy place.