National Post (Latest Edition)
How to not lose that lovin’ feeling after a vacation
How to maintain those relaxed vacation vibes once you return
A colleague recently returned from a trip to Europe with that unmistakable just-backfrom-vacation glow. Striving to hold on to it for as long as possible, she deployed various strategies including placing her used boarding passes front and centre on her desk, and leaving receipts from the TV Tower in Berlin and the Eiffel Tower in Paris on a bedroom chest of drawers that she passes each morning.
“It just surrounds me,” she said of the strategic placement of her vacation mementos. “It sustains that warm vibe.”
She also made a point of incorporating items that she bought during her trip into her daily life back in New York. In Berlin, for instance, she picked up a silver Bodum milk frother with the idea that when she returned home she would make her coffee the way a friend made it for her each morning in Berlin. (Yes, she could have bought a Bodum frother in New York, but hers is imbued with meaning because she purchased it in Berlin where her friend bought hers.) Wearing clothes acquired on vacation also helps, she said, especially if you first wore that new dress to a jazz club or while strolling from the Latin Quarter to the Marais.
“It brings back the memories,” she said, “because you’re wearing the memories.”
I liked her strategies and began wondering about other potential vacationextending tactics.
A number of studies suggest that much pleasure can be derived from actively anticipating a vacation: looking at photos of the places you plan to visit, reading about the culture, making dinner reservations, or simply imagining yourself enjoying your time there.
Maintaining pleasure after a great vacation is more challenging.
Researchers have found that the glow, if achieved at all, fades quickly. Indeed, one such study, published in 2010 in Applied Research in Quality of Life, surveyed 1,530 Dutch individuals and noted that only vacationers who said they had a “very relaxed” trip benefited in terms of post-trip happiness. And even among that group, the post-vacation high lasted a mere two weeks or so.
One possible reason that travellers have an easier time anticipating a vacation than hanging on to its afterglow is that, in general, anticipation evokes stronger feelings and images. Research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2007 by Leaf Van Boven at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Laurence Ashworth at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, found that “the tendency to report more intense emotions during anticipation than during retrospection is robust and pervasive in everyday life.” 1. Plan Make sure that your vacation is likely to provide you with happy memories by nailing down in advance the kind of details that can trip you up (which bus to take into the city, what hours the museum is open). Well-planned vacations lower stress, according to research by Shawn Achor, a former lecturer at Harvard known for his talks on positive psychology, and the founder of Good Think, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass., along with Michelle Gielan, founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research. “Poorly planned and stressful vacations eliminate the positive benefit of time away,” Achor wrote in a blog series for the Harvard Business Review last year. “A positive, well-managed vacation can make you happier and less stressed, and you can return with more energy at work and with more meaning in your life.” 2. Reminisce Most people snap back to their particular baseline level of happiness shortly after returning from a vacation. But psychologists say that reminiscing about a trip, even long after it’s over, can bring deep pleasure in the present. “Flipping through a photo album or watching old video clips (us at the Grand Canyon, me driving my motorbike) helps us relive the positive experience and the positive feelings we had at the time,” writes Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, in “The Myths of Happiness.” This can also be accomplished, she and others have said, by savouring the details of a trip (the smell of jasmine in the park, the sound of the orchestra in the amphitheatre) and sharing them with others.
“Rather than letting our paid-for possessions and experiences to gather dust on shelves and in closets and memories,” Lyubomirsky wrote, “we can either literally re-experience them in the present (e.g. by taking out the faded Trivial Pursuit) or metaphorically (e.g. by reminiscing about spring break).” 3. Retreat “Nowhere is there a more idyllic spot, a vacation home more private and peaceful, than in one’s own mind, especially when it is furnished in such a way that the merest inward glance induces ease,” wrote the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in a translation of his “Meditations” by C. Scot Hicks and David V. Hicks.
“Take this vacation as often as you like,” he continued, “and so charge your spirit.”
Knowing I was in the market for postvacation preservatives, another colleague shared with me that passage, which seems as relevant in the 2000s as it was in the 100s.
The importance of vacation has been explored in various studies including one published in the journal Society and Mental Health in 2013. The authors, including Terry Hartig, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Uppsala University, Sweden, looked into whether the potential benefits of vacationing (having more energy, fewer health complaints, better life satisfaction) could spread among individuals, contributing “more to population health than the sum of benefits to individual workers.” Using data from a pharmacy corporation allied with Sweden’s national health care system and from governmental sources, they found that the dispensation of antidepressants declined with an increase in the number of vacationing workers. Ideally, vast swaths of the population would take time off simultaneously for what the researchers call “collective restoration.”
However, the researchers also found that having a good vacation may not only benefit you, it may also benefit others. Those good feelings you return with can spread to your colleagues, even though they themselves didn’t take a vacation.
So consider encouraging your co-worker to tack those postcards to her cubicle wall, or wear that new bangle from Santorini. Who knows? The happier she is after her vacation, the happier you may be, too.