Can Vacations Make You Happy?

We’re right smack dab in the middle of summer and chances are that many of you are probably looking forward to a vacation at the beach, in the mountains, or overseas.

Vacation 1But do holidays actually make you happier?

Not to burst your bubble, but not so much, according to one study published in the journal, Applied Research in Quality of Life.

Researchers from the Netherlands questioned about 1500 Dutch adults, 974 of which took a vacation during the 32-week study period. They discovered the biggest shot of happiness actually happens before people left on a trip.

In fact, planning and anticipating the vacation boosted happiness for eight weeks. However, after people get back from their trip, unfortunately, happiness levels dropped back down to original levels. In other words, you’re right back where you started.

No doubt, part of the reason for that is due to the stress of going back to work. That big pile of work waiting for you can be a Debbie Downer for sure. And let’s face it, some trips can be stressful in themselves.

But does that mean you should cancel your plane tickets?

Hang on just a second before you get all depressed. Thankfully, there are a few ways you can maximize the amount of happiness you get from your vacation.

Vacation 2Start Planning Early

This is a no brainer. If your happiness levels are highest before you leave, extend the amount of time you experience that vacation high by planning months in advance.

Do lots of research. Schedule activities and plan which sites you’ll visit. Or try watching a movie or reading a novel set in your planned destination to set the mood. Talk about the trip with family and friends. Listen to music that reminds you of your vacation spot.

Make plans well in advance of your trip and put a bright spot on your horizon.

Take the Stress Out of Your Trip

I always laugh at that scene in City Slickers where Billy Crystal is being dragged by a bull and screams, “I’m on vacation!” Or when he tells Curly, “…if you’re gonna kill me, get on with it; if not, shut the hell up – I’m on vacation.” Sometimes we try too hard. Don’t over-schedule yourself. You’re going on vacation to relax, remember?

And please, leave your lap top at home and tell your business associates you won’t be taking phone calls. And finally, travel with people that will make your vacation a positive experience. That means no inviting that friend who often makes snarky remarks or your Uncle Bob who tells nonstop jokes.

Savor the Memories

In one of my blogs, Spend Money on Experiences not Stuff, I point out that while the initial high of buying things like a new pair of shoes quickly wears off, memories of experiences continue to provide feelings of joy and happiness long after the event is over.

“When one buys an experience, they seem to be buying themselves a story as well,” said Dr. Amit Kumar, a social psychologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “So one way vacations continue to provide hedonic benefits even after they’ve long since passed is because they live on in the stories we tell.”

The positive memories you’ll have after a vacation are priceless. Extend your pleasure when you get home by looking at photos, sharing them on Facebook and Instagram, and talking to loved ones about your trip. Use souvenirs and photos as home decor. For some great ideas check out this fun blog. I love their idea of creating a memory jar.

So, if you want my advice, ignore the study about vacations. On average, Americans only use up half of their vacation days. How awful! We need to take some lessons from Europe where every country has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. We all need a break from real life.

Trips can strengthen family bonds, improve our long-term health, and bring romance to a marriage. Sixty-two percent of adults say their earliest memories are of family vacations. My Mom recently died and I can tell you, some of my most cherished memories are all the family trips we took together.

So go and create some great memories! If you can’t afford a big vacation, at least schedule some long weekends and apply all of the rules above. A big trip is not in the cards right now for my husband and I, but we’re planning a get-away to Malibu for some kayaking, hiking, and lounging on the beach later this month. I don’t care what the studies say. I can’t wait!

Images courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot and Idea go at


Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

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4 Responses

  1. I love the European vacations schedule! He just changed jobs a year and a half ago and we don’t even get a full two weeks until he’s been there a full two years.

    We’re hoping to arrange his personal time and scheduled days off and take a couple of mini-vacations that will be one or two overnights.

    Some of my happiest memories are vacations I took with my parents growing up and my own family when our kids were still home. 😀

    • juliegorges says:

      I know, I’m so jealous of the Europeans. My husband and I are also taking a couple of long weekend mini-vacations as well. So let’s make the most of it, Pearl, and hope that we get more vacation time in the future!

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