Back at work and feeling blue? Don’t be discouraged – research shows that the effects of your holiday may have had more long-term benefits than you might think.
We all know that taking a break is good for our mental health and our productivity. But could travel have long-lasting effects on our life satisfaction? A group of Dutch researchers published a study at the end of last year finding that individuals who went on more holidays experienced greater happiness the following year (compared with those who went on fewer holidays). Not only this, but they also found the opposite to be true; the happier people felt, the more holidays they ended up going on in subsequent years. These findings accounted for personal income, which suggests that, salary aside, going on your beach holiday may increase your happiness not only while you’re soaking up the sun but long after as well.
“Hedonic adaptation” is a theory used by psychologists to explain why you might feel a shift in happiness when something big happens to you (think of the last time you bought something you really wanted) but that this happiness boost is usually not long-lasting. Even if you’ve bought the shiniest new car on the market, for example, hedonic adaptation means that eventually you’ll return to your regular, pre-purchase happiness levels.
Travel-related happiness, however, has the potential to linger for much longer than you expect. This is because research is showing that experiential purchases (such as going to the theatre or on a trip) usually make us happier than do material purchases. Here are a few ways to make sure that you get the most out of your travel experiences by reducing your hedonic adaptation when it’s over:
- Enhance anticipation and expectation. Looking forward to an upcoming trip can often be more enjoyable than the trip itself. Not only this, but anticipation and expectation can help to foster enduring positive emotions from a holiday through encouraging high attention levels throughout your time away. The longer you’ve been waiting for your holiday to arrive, the more likely you are to want to savour every second of it. If you’ve been dreaming of your holiday for months, you’re also less likely to react negatively when things go wrong while you’re on it.
You can increase your anticipation of a holiday by booking it further in advance or opting to plan it yourself, rather than booking through a tour group, for example.
- Increase uncertainty and serendipity. While it may seem counter-intuitive, the greater room you leave for uncertainty in your trip, the greater your happiness boost. People often avoid uncertainty in their day-to-day life from fear of negative outcomes, but travel offers a unique opportunity to experience joy―simply through a departure from one’s usual routine. “Serendipity” while travelling refers to the idea of experiencing novelty or something unexpected when in a different place; something that feels real, authentic, or coincidental. These experiences, such as a making a friend on the other side of the world, or unintentionally stumbling across a mesmerising waterfall, were shown in recent research to be key to increasing long-lasting pleasure from travel.
You can enhance uncertainty in your travels by leaving free days in your itinerary to explore without a tour guide (or, if you’re feeling confident, leaving your map behind).