You know the feeling all too well: You return from a fabulous vacation convinced that the afterglow will last for days, maybe even weeks (yes, it was that good). Then back to work you go, and one day into it you're time-crunched, stressed out, and feel like you never left! So the question is, how to make the good feelings last? Surely there must be a way? New research out of the Netherlands may provide an answer.
Published recently in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, the study tracked the happiness levels of 974 vacationers and 556 nonvacationers over a period of several weeks. The vacationers were surveyed about their level of happiness pre-, during, and post-vacation.
Compared to the nonvacationers, the vacationers' happiness levels were higher pre-vacation (they were likely anticipating the holiday) and during the vacation, but similar to those of the nonvacationers after the holiday. With one exception: A subgroup of vacationers who termed their getaway "very relaxing" — as opposed to the other subgroups, who called theirs "relaxed," "neutral," "stressful," or "very stressful" — retained a significant happiness afterglow for two weeks beyond their vacation on average. What's more, this group's happiness level remained slightly elevated for a full eight weeks.
Another interesting finding was that the length of the vacation had no bearing on subsequent happiness levels. "As long as the trip provided sufficient opportunity to relax and reduce stress," write the study authors, "there were no differences in post-trip happiness, regardless of how many days spent on holiday."
What it means
The study points toward two strategies for maximizing the number of days of post-vacation happiness you may hope to experience each year: One, take very relaxing vacations. And two, if length of stay has no bearing on later happiness, then more, multiple shorter vacations should result in more happiness days than would fewer, longer vacations.
As for the all-important matter of what constitutes "very relaxing," this is in the eye of the beholder, says psychologist Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, Rodale.com adviser and mind/body/mood expert. "One person may think lying on the beach for days is relaxing," says Rossman. "Whereas, a restless, type A person may think lying on the beach is pure torture. Relaxation is a function of how each individual feels about the experience."
Rossman recommends these additional strategies for extending your vacation afterglow:
Talk about it
Savor the positive experiences. Take photographs during your trip, then share them with others and describe your positive vacation experiences. If possible, reminisce about your trip with the people with whom you traveled.
Thank those who made it special
If someone at a hotel or vacation venue was especially helpful to you, for example, send him or her a thank you note. If you made new friends and promised to keep in touch, give them a call or send an e-mail (which could open up more opportunities for reminiscing).
Carry on with the good stuff
If you learned how to do something new on vacation, by all means implement it in your life as soon as possible. If you took tennis lessons, get back on your home court ASAP to use the skills you developed on vacation. The same applies if you took art classes or yoga classes or went on your first bird-watching excursion. "Vacations in which you learn new skills can contribute to greater happiness in the long run," says Rossman. "But only if you make the effort to integrate them into your life."