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Post-vacation afterglow fades fast, experts say

Enjoy that feeling while it lasts. The post-vacation afterglow fades faster than we'd prefer.
Enjoy that feeling while it lasts. The post-vacation afterglow fades faster than we'd prefer.Karl Weatherly / Getty Images stock

If you just arrived home from a fabulous vacation, you might be enjoying yet another souvenir from your travels -- a happiness hangover.

A post-vacation afterglow -- that heady, blissed out, feel-good euphoria you get upon returning from your time away -- helps ease re-entry into the daily grind. But how long will your holiday high last?

Your trip's psychological payoffs wear off within two weeks, either directly or gradually, says Jeroen Nawijn, a tourism researcher at NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands who has studied the after-effects of vacations. That may sound like a fast fade out. But most of us quickly return to work and fall back into our usual routines so the getaway afterglow has a short lifespan.

As for why the positive benefits seem so fleeting, Nawijn explains that during vacations people generally experience a greater sense of freedom, less structure, and more socializing. These are often gone immediately once home.

Interestingly, a longer trip will not prolong your post-holiday happiness. Research has not found that the amount of time you spend on vacation has a significant effect on your spirits afterward, although travel lasting three to six months has not yet been evaluated.

According to the studies Nawijn's done and seen, he says it's certainly possible that a great 3-day weekend might produce the same two week afterglow as a fantastic 14-day cruise.

Although the quantity of time spent taking a break has little influence on your post-trip happiness, the quality of your vacation -- your enjoyment of it -- does make a difference. "If you had a great vacation, you experience two weeks of afterglow," Nawijn says. "Everyone else returns to their pre-trip levels of happiness right away, but they don't feel worse."

Your post-trip afterglow is also very dependent on how the vacation felt and how life feels in general, says Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist and TODAY show contributor. If you're coming home to work and family you like that can also lift your spirits compared to returning to a life you dread.

Your character type also matters. Saltz says optimists may hold on to happier feelings longer than pessimists who may have a "now that that's over" mentality following some R&R.

"A big feature of vacations is that you're playing and that's in sharp contrast to working," admits Saltz.

To help the afterglow linger, she suggests "take those elements from your vacation that seemed to work interpersonally -- with your spouse or with your kids -- and implement them at home."

For instance, romance and sex is often better on vacation, but this may be less of a priority at home. If spending time away helped you reconnect with your partner and realize, "I really like this person," that has more potential to last after your trip than those "I'm so relaxed," kind of feelings, Saltz explains.

Readers, short of planning another vacation, what helps extend your post-getaway glow?