The answer, according to research conducted in the Netherlands, is that even though we might enjoy some happy moments during our fun-in-the-sun (or fun-on-the-slopes), these breaks are not always wonderful.
Jeroen Nawijn of NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands found a holiday happiness curve: Our mood tends to be lowest through the first 10 percent of a holiday and quite high during the “core phase,” which spans about 70 percent of the vacation time. Our spirits soar on the day before going home.
“The first few days of a holiday trip appear to be particularly unpleasant, even dangerous,” says Nawijn. It is then that we are most likely to fall victim to travelers’ diarrhea (“Montezuma’s revenge,” “Ganges gurgles,” etc.) and even, for the most unlucky, heart problems.
Philip Pearce of James Cook University in Australia studied tourists visiting tropical islands along the Great Barrier Reef and discovered that their moods were particularly negative on the second and third days of their holidays, the time during which they also seemed to develop the most health problems. These ailments included skin rashes, tiredness, allergies, ear infections and asthma.
Yet it is not just a new climate or cultural differences that can make you feel bad; it is also the free time itself. Ad Vingerhoets, a quality-of-life expert at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, calls this a “leisure sickness.” People with this condition develop symptoms of illness during weekends and vacations, even though they rarely feel bad at work, he says.
Vingerhoets believes leisure sickness — the inability to relax and adapt to the pace of life outside work — to be more prevalent in people living in big cities. Those affected suffer from headaches, muscular pains, nausea and flulike symptoms just when their free time begins, whether it’s a weekend or holiday.
“I feel that there is a strong connection with workaholism. Men and women with responsible positions in management and much work pressure may suffer from this condition,” he said.
Even if we do enjoy our holiday, the moment we return to our home sweet home, the good mood starts to evaporate. Two weeks later, almost all the benefits of a vacation are gone.
In the study of the Dutch holidaymakers, who were less tense and more energized during their trip, those benefits had all but vanished within the first week of everyday life. Nawijn believes that vacationers compare their day-to-day experience with the happiness they felt on holidays. “Such a comparison may lower vacationers’ contentment with their normal lives,” he says.