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Do Holidays Affect Your Happiness?


Holidays are a chance to take a break from work, see the world, reconnect with and enjoy time with family. But do they make you happier? As I write this blog I’m in that “pre-holiday stress” zone of trying to not only get everything done, but get ahead of myself too, whilst planning packing lists for myself and my 4 year old son – my hubby can sort himself out! – getting all of the washing done and making sure we have everything we need, the cat sitter is organised and asking the neighbours to keep an eye on our house. Admittedly, my fear of flying adds a huge element of pre-holiday stress for me, but I’m worrying about all the dangers a foreign holiday can pose to a four year old… pools, balconies, glass doors, water slides… shall we just stay at home?

Researchers from the Netherlands set out to measure the effect that holidays have on overall happiness and how long it lasts. They studied happiness levels among 1,530 Dutch adults, 974 of which took a holiday during the 32-week study period.

The study, published in the journal ‘Applied Research in Quality of Life’, showed that the largest boost in happiness comes from the simple act of planning a holiday. In the study, the effect of holiday anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks. Whereas after the holiday, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people. How much stress or relaxation a traveller experienced on the trip appeared to influence post-vacation happiness. With no post-trip happiness benefit for travellers who said the holiday was “neutral” or stressful.”

Surprisingly, even those travellers who described the trip as “relaxing” showed no additional jump in happiness after the trip. “They were no happier than people who had not been on holiday,” said the lead author, Jeroen Nawijn, tourism research lecturer at Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.

The only holidaymakers who experienced an increase in happiness after the trip were those who reported feeling “very relaxed” on their break. Among those people, the holiday happiness effect lasted for just two weeks after the trip before returning to baseline levels as everything returned to normal.

“Holidays do make people happy,” Mr. Nawijn said. “But we found people who are anticipating holiday trips show signs of increased happiness, and afterward there is hardly an effect.” One reason vacations don’t boost happiness after the trip may have to do with the stress of returning to work. And for some travellers, the holiday itself was stressful. In comments from people in the study, the thing they mentioned most referred to disagreements with a travel partner or being ill.

The research monitored for differences among the holidaymakers and those who hadn’t taken a trip, including income level, stress and education. However, Mr. Nawijn noted that questions remain about whether the time of year, type of trip and other factors may influence post-holiday happiness.

The study didn’t find any relationship between the length of the holiday and overall happiness. Since most of the happiness boost comes from the planning and anticipating. The study suggests that people may get more out of several small trips a year than one big vacation, Mr. Nawijn said.

“The practical lesson for an individual is that you derive most of your happiness from anticipating the holiday trip,” he said. “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.”

Mr. Nawijn said that while he expected the study results to show a pre-holiday happiness boost, he was surprised that the study showed that relaxed holidays didn’t affect post-trip happiness levels “People start working again,” he said. “They have to catch up. Usually there is a big pile of work for them when they get back from the holiday.” We all hate coming back to work and checking our emails don’t we? Remember this holiday stress graph that went viral a few years ago? It’s pretty spot on isn’t it?


I’m determined that I’m not going to check my email whilst I’m away (I’m self-employed and therefore don’t get holiday pay, so I’m hoping this will make me stay away from it!) and I’m going to do my best to be mindful and grateful for all the time I’m going to get with my hubby and son, just the three of us, until that homeward flight starts looming…

Well being


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