The Glow of Vacation

How are aspects of our vacation connected to how we feel afterward?

Posted Aug 25, 2019

With August nearing its end and September peeking its little head around the corner, if you’re among

Karenfoleyphotography/shutterstock
Source: Karenfoleyphotography/shutterstock

the roughly half of folks in the United States who were planning to take a vacation this summer, chances are you’re either already back or you’re returning soon.

Thankfully, the precious time off you gave yourself is linked with a host of upsides, including a boost in well-being, feeling less depleted, a more upbeat frame of mind, reduced strain, and enhanced commitment and passion at work.  Unfortunately, science also reveals that this post-vacation glow swiftly dwindles as you settle back into the working rhythm of your days and weeks.  And although researchers haven’t identified a way to prevent these holiday perks from waning, they’ve been investigating aspects of work and leisure connected to how readily those perks wear off.

So if you want to maximize the odds that you’ll hold onto the wellness gifts of vacation a little longer, here are a few considerations to bear in mind as you either return from vacation or start planning the next one:

Feeling safe and valued at work

For people who are working in environments where they’re not sure how long they’ll have a job or where they don’t feel valued, the improved health and vigor they enjoyed while on vacation is more apt to taper off.

Doing a whole lot of…nothing

If you’re feeling tempted to lay on the beach and simply read and doze to the sound of the ocean rather than taking a trip on the go, this idle way to spend your days is connected to well-being even after you head back to work. 

Enjoying yourself

Experiences that bring trip-goers delight and happiness are associated with health after their vacation ends.  The idea of having fun on a vacation probably sounds obvious, but it can be a little trickier than it seems.  For instance, a person may force themselves to do something (e.g., going to an overcrowded attraction) even if they don’t really want to, because they’ve travelled all this way and it just seems like “the thing to do.”  If this, or something like it, sounds familiar, try giving yourself a break and focusing on what you truly want to do.   

Chilling out

A bit of time off presents an opportunity to have a rest from the lively, hectic pace of life and the obligations that it contains.  And when travelers take advantage of this and unwind, this is connected to their well-being up to four weeks after vacation ends. 

Relishing the experience

Whatever we’re experiencing over the course of a trip, whether that involves standing in the midst of beautiful scenery, tasting delicious fare, or visiting a fascinating attraction, we have a choice about how much we revel in the moment and feel grateful for it.  As we actively pay attention to what we’re experiencing on our time off and relish it, something that’s also called “savoring,” this is connected to our well-being up to four weeks after we return home.

Having freedom

There’s immense variety in the kinds of vacations people enjoy.  My husband and I get plenty of laughs out of a joke among some of our friends: Our idea of a delightful dream vacation is their notion of a miserable ordeal.  There’s really no right or wrong when it comes to taking a vacation, except that we take the kind of trip that is right for each of us.  When people generally feel like they’re free to select what they want to do on their vacation, it’s related to their well-being up to one month later.  

Giving yourself the weekend

It can feel quite tempting to try extend a vacation for as long as possible by returning home on Sunday and then jumping back into the working week.  As understandable as that is, it may not be ideal for our contentment immediately afterward.  A team of researchers who studied individuals coming back from a three-week vacation recommended that people try to time the end of their vacation so the next weekend, rather than the next work week is readily in sight.  For example, instead of coming back on a Sunday, consider returning home on a Thursday or Friday instead.  It's unclear whether this also applies to those of us coming back from shorter vacations, but even then, having an approaching weekend to look ahead to probably wouldn't hurt.     

As you’ve been reading this piece, perhaps you’ve been questioning what point vacations have if the advantages we obtain from them are simply going to disappear.  If that seems to fit your experience, I appreciate not only the question, but also your patience and willingness to continue reading anyway. If it helps, consider this: Even as the benefits of vacations will wither, this doesn’t mean they’re not valuable over the long haul for our health and wellness.  For instance, one research study revealed that among men susceptible to developing coronary artery disease, those who took more yearly vacations (i.e., one vacation per year) over the past five years were less likely to die in the coming nine years.  And this result held even when health and income (both of which can impact how many vacations people go on) were taken into account.  What's more, the idea that we shouldn’t bother taking vacations because we’ll lose those wellness benefits anyway stands on shaky ground.  As one team of researchers aptly put it, “Asking why we should keep going on vacations is therefore comparable to asking why we should go to sleep considering the fact that we get tired again.”  So regardless of whether our vacation involves traveling or staying at home, going on athletic adventures or laying by a beach, when we have space to take a break from the usual pace of life, it's time well spent. 

References

de Bloom, J., Geurts, S.A.E., & Kompier, M.A.J. (2013). Vacation (after-) effects on employee health and well-being, and the role of vacation activities, experiences and sleep. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 613-633.    

de Bloom, J., Geurts, S.A.E., Taris, T.W., Sonnentag, S., de Weerth, C., & Kompier, M.A.J. (2010). Effects of vacation from work on health and well-being: Lots of fun, quickly gone. Work and Stress, 24, 196-216.   

Gump, B.B., & Matthews, K.A. (2000). Are vacations good for your health? The 9-year mortality experience after the multiple risk factor intervention trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, 608-612. 

Kühnel, J., & Sonnentag, S. (2011). How long do you benefit from vacation?: A closer look at the fade-out of vacation effects. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32, 125-143.  

Reizer, A., & Mey-Raz, N. (2019). Slowing down vacation fade-out effects. International Journal of Stress Management, 26, 213-222. 

Strauss-Blasche, G., Muhry, F., Lehofer, M., Moser, M., & Marktl, W. (2004). Time course of well-being after a three-week resort-based respite from occupational and domestic demands: Carry-over, contrast and situation effects. Journal of Leisure Research, 36, 293-309.