Others point at the demands of our jobs and all the work that piles up on our desks during the time spent away. After all, a mailbox full of e-mails and a long to-do list can dampen the highest of spirits.
So the cheerful holiday mood doesn’t last long — I was ready to accept that. But what about a general sense of well-being? Would my life feel as full as it does now if I knew I would never see a palm-fringed swimming pool again?
To my surprise, experts say I would most likely be as satisfied with my life as a whole as I am now. Our judgments of life’s quality are generally rather stable, and depend more on our personality than on what happens to us.
Yet there are ways to squeeze more happiness out of vacations. How? First, take more short trips instead of a few long ones: Research shows that additional days don’t bring us additional happiness. Nawijn in his 2010 study concluded that two- to six-day vacations are the most beneficial to our well-being.
Second, go for active holidays: Research shows that exercise not only makes us healthy but also happy. A separate 2010 study that appeared in the journal Work and Stress showed that people felt healthier, less tense and more energized during a winter sports holiday than throughout a typical day at work.
If you want to avoid a post-holiday mood crash, don’t come back home on a Sunday. A study published in the Journal of Leisure Research shows that if we return on a Thursday or a Friday, we can insulate ourselves from the shock of job demands and prolong the holiday happiness boost. To those suffering from leisure sickness, Vingerhoets suggests a good workout before going on vacation to help the body unwind. “But in some cases even just a reflection that there is an imbalance between work and non-work in our lives might already suffice,” he says.
Finally, enjoy the pre-travel planning phase. Nawijn, who interviewed 1,530 vacationers, discovered that preparations for a trip elevated people’s moods. That’s a good thing, given the letdown of a holiday’s first few days.
Zaraska is a Canadian freelance journalist and novelist who lives in France.