Making the joy of vacations last

Taking time off work is an important way for us to relax and recharge our batteries, but the positive effects soon wear off. How can we make them last?

Researchers from the Netherlands found that the biggest boost of happiness came during the planning stages of a vacation, with the anticipation of a trip increasing happiness in research participants for a period of eight weeks.

However on returning home, happiness quickly dropped back to normal. In fact, people that reported their trip as being moderately relaxing were no happier than those who had not been on holiday. The only people that reported feeling happier after their vacation were those that reported feeling ‘very relaxed’. Even then, the effects only lasted two weeks after coming home.

Similarly, another study found that health and well-being increased quickly during the vacation, peaked on the eighth day, and returned back to normal within the first week of returning to work.

Although this may seem like taking a vacation is pointless, clinical psychologist Deborah Mulhern reminds us that people who don't take enough time to relax may find it harder to relax in the future.

"Without time and opportunity…the neural connections that produce feelings of calm and peacefulness become weaker, making it actually more difficult to shift into less-stressed modes," Mulhern said. "What neuroscience is showing is that we require down time in order for our bodies to go through the process of restoration. It is only when we are safe from external stresses that our bodies can relax enough to activate restoration."

Cass Sunstein, a professor at Harvard University, agrees that the experience of a vacation can provide us with long-lasting benefits.

“Novel experiences...provide the basis for valuable memories that endure, and that can help to define the texture of a life. It is tempting to think that a two-week trip to Paris is pretty short, but if the vacation is terrific it will have a life-long effect. In your mind, you will keep coming back to it,” she said.

Jessica de Bloom studies the effects of vacation on stress, recovery and work motivation and suggests these tips for making the positive effects of a vacation last:

· Try to plan more than one vacation throughout a work year, no matter how brief or close to home they may be, as vacation effects are strong but also rather short-lived.

· Prevent holiday hassles by preparing for your vacation thoroughly (e.g., a car check, a first aid kit, prescriptions that may be needed and consensus with co-travellers about vacation activities).

· Engage in pleasant activities, because pleasure enhances the vacation effect on health and well-being.

· Try to reduce high work demands immediately after resuming work, as they may fade the positive effects of your vacation more quickly.

· Share your vacation experiences and actively collect memories that can easily be recalled later, to boost and prolong vacation effects.

Does the pleasure of your vacation soon fade? How do you make it last?

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