Does your vacation make you happy?



In the coming days, it’s Easter school holidays in most European countries, which can last from 1 to 3 weeks. Most people, especially those with school children will take off from work to take care of the kids, and perhaps travel a bit.

When it comes to number of vacation days per year, European employees get much more than their counterparts in North America and Asia. Almost all European countries require employers to give their employees at least 20 days of paid leave. Most people get more. In contrast, US law does not provide for paid leaves. Paid vacation is based on the generosity of the employer. See more details of the number of paid vacation days here.

Vacation means not going to work and for many Europeans, it also means travelling. Almost everybody goes on a vacation trip in Europe. But does vacation really make us happy? Are Europeans happier than Americans because they get more vacation?

This Dutch study looked at the effect of vacation on people’s overall happiness. 1,520 Dutch adults, of whom 974 went on a vacation during the last 32 weeks participated in the study. The researchers assessed the participants’ level of happiness before, during, and after vacation. The results can be summarized as

  • Highest level of happiness was measured before the actual vacation during the planning stage.
  • Happiness immediately drops back to the original levels after coming back from vacation. At this point, there is no difference in happiness between those who went on holidays and those who didn’t.
  • The actual vacation itself made many people happy although some reported it to be stressful due to illness or conflicts with fellow travellers.
  • The amount of stress or relaxation during the actual vacation influence postvacation levels of happiness. Moderate relaxation doesn’t seem to increase happiness after vacation. Only a very relaxing holiday trip can boost postvacation happiness.
  • Postvacation stress can actually increase as many people find it difficult to get back to work after a vacation. Work also tends to pile up during those days of absence.

The study results suggest that the joy of vacation lies in the anticipation, not in the vacation itself. The authors’ take home message: take many short holidays during the year rather than one long one.

“The practical lesson for an individual is that you derive most of your happiness from anticipating the holiday trip. What you can do is try to increase that by taking more trips per year. If you have a two week holiday you can split it up and have two one week holidays. You could try to increase the anticipation effect by talking about it more and maybe discussing it online.”

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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