Do Vacations Really Make You Happier?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  206 comments   :  21,281 Views

I remember the first time we went on vacation as a family with my (then) 9-month old daughter. As a tired new mom, I was looking forward to a relaxing week at the beach with my family. But the week didn't go exactly as I'd planned. We had great weather, good food and lively conversation, but it was stressful. For some reason I thought "vacation" meant that my daughter would require less work and I could relax. But she still needed to be fed, changed, played with, etc. And that was even more challenging in a new place when she wasn't sleeping in her own bed and I had to constantly watch her in a condo that was far from baby-proofed. I ended up coming back from the trip more tired than when we left. Ever since then, I've revised my expectations about vacations. Now new research is measuring how vacations affect overall happiness and how long it lasts.

The study, published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life studied happiness levels in over 1,500 Dutch adults, 974 of whom took a vacation during the 32-week study period. The study found that vacation anticipation boosted happiness levels for an average of eight weeks before the trip. But for most people, their happiness levels returned to baseline after the vacation was over. Only those who said their trip was "very relaxed" showed an improvement in happiness levels after the trip- and that effect only lasted about two weeks. Most others found the most benefit from planning and less from the vacation itself.

The study also didn't find a relationship between length of the trip and happiness levels. So you might get just as much benefit from a few weekend trips throughout the year instead of one long vacation. It can also be stressful to think about returning to every day life- the piles of laundry, work emails and other tasks- that have piled up while you were gone. Shorter trips can be more economical and reduce the amount of "catch up" stress you experience after you get home.

What do you think? Do you notice a long-lasting change in your happiness levels when you return from a great vacation?

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  • 206
    There are benefits to taking vacations as well as being in the routine at home. Vacations give me a break from that every day. There is nothing like seeing where you live in the rear view mirror. Getting out gives a different perspective and enriches us. As with everything else, vacations do have their downside. Children, even though we love them very much, can cause vacation stress. When we went camping with our girls, one did not like camping duties which made it very difficult to have fun and relax. Sometimes weather gets in the way. It is important to know what you need in a vacation for personal nourishment for it to have long lasting results. My husband and I had a wonderful vacation last summer. We got in the car and traveled out west visiting old friends. It did not put us into the poor house, we connected with people we love, and we saw and experienced many beautiful things on our way. I still reap the benefits when I reflect on it and look at the pictures. After experiencing a good time away we can come back refreshed and renewed with a different perspective. It makes arriving home enjoyable. The goodness is in the attitude that you experience with. - 2/8/2013   8:50:14 AM
  • 205
    sorry but I don't buy that. vacations are good. long vacations are even better and there 's no way a few weekends will ever replace a long vacation. I personally prefer shorter trips , like a week or 10 days at most but that doesn't mean I feel the urge to work when I come back. and it's only natural you can't enjoy a vacation with a child so small.I think modern life that requires to waste almost all our time at work is the bad thing. we forgot that we work to live not live to work and became like little robots and consider this " normal" . - 2/8/2013   12:30:50 AM
  • 204
    I love vacations and take as many as my schedule and budget will accommodate.
    I don't have children or pets, so we have a lot of flexibility to travel when we see a deal, which results in a lot of off peak traveling! I'm also really good about forgetting all the stress at home and enjoying the experience.

    We usually do one week long trip a year and then a bunch of little trips, either within our state or to a US destination. My boyfriend and I have been together for almost 11 years and get along wonderfully. We just did a trip a month ago going up north. We spent a lot of our time just hanging out in the hotel and that was just fine with us.

    I love having something to look forward to, seeing the destinations, doing our favorite activites. It can be stressful being away depending on when we're traveling, but I do my best to be organized, space out the trips, and minimize the impact. I'm also very good about utilizing the workout facilities at the hotel or choosing vacations where I do a ton of walking - built in exercise! It's all worth it! - 12/13/2012   10:14:39 AM
  • 203
    Living the expat life can be really stressful with the language and cultural differences, your actions affect how other people view your country, the typical fruits and vegetables you may never have seen or heard of, comfort foods are not available, flour may not bake up the same as the stuff at home, exposure to germs, et cetera, et cetera. Rest and Relaxation trips are neccessary to recharge the batteries. But I also find planning the R&R stressful. Having to find just the right location, the right facility (no more than 12 guests at a time), the right mix of activities for my hubby (super active) and myself (not too active) and all within the budget. But once I am there and I don't have to cook or clean, I find myself relaxing. We talk to the guides and try to learn about their local customs and culture, learn about their language, their medicinal plants, folk lore, the names of the birds and animals and how to distinguish them from other varieties. I come away happier. But how long does that last after getting back to the expat location. Maybe two weeks and then you are back to same old same old. - 11/25/2012   4:49:27 PM
  • 202
    I used to think so, but that was before I spent years living out of suitcases and boxes, traveling internationally and living abroad.

    My answer today is diametrically opposite to what I would have answered 20 years ago.

    In fact, hubby and I cut our Thanksgiving 'vacation' short so we could be back in our own kitchen with our own food, sleep in our own bed with our own pillows, listen to our own familiar neighborhood noises, and enjoy our own hot tub . . . For us, there really is no place like home.
    - 11/24/2012   2:36:34 PM
  • 201
    Those of you who have jobs and earn vacation time off have no idea how fortunate you are. My idiot husband tells people he"s living his retirement now. That a load of "bs". Before we became self employed and had real paycheck earning jobs, had sick leave and vacations, holidays and personal days, we were able to take a vacation and actually GO somewhere. Now we are self emplyed, there are no benefits incuding sick time. If I'm sick I still have to go to work. I ahve not had a vacation since 2005. We became self employed in 2006. I'm glad he thinks he's retired! I just hope I live to draw my SS so maybe I can take a vacation. - 11/22/2012   10:37:51 PM
  • 200
    I feel sorry for couples who fight on vacation; I see that often. I think vacations are wonderful but only if things are going well in the family beforehand. Since I have a limited budget, I save until I can afford a life-changing experience. For me, it is close encounters with wild animals. The afterglow of unique adventures remain with me my entire life. - 4/27/2012   7:08:48 AM
  • MRE1956
    AAGGHH! HOT BUTTON TRIGGER FOR ME! I'd literally give my EYETEETH for a real, bonafide OUT-OF STATE (NJ - the STATE FROM HELL) VACATION! Flippin' economy * DAMNED TEMP WORK makes this impossible for me......yeah - triggered and stressed much? :( :( :( - 4/27/2012   6:30:50 AM
    This research is spot-on! A trip to the beach or the mountains, to me, is far superior in terms of relaxation than a trip to Disney World, where the crowds, heat, expenses, and logistics of planning one's time to get the most out of the parks is overwhelmingly stressful! - 7/19/2011   5:49:19 PM
    vacations do me good! - 7/19/2011   1:57:03 PM
  • 196
    I love vacations. Any time away I'll gladly accept whether it's a day or a week. I love it all, except packing. We balance our time with fun, adventure, and relaxation too. Just doing anything different from the daily mundane is wonderful. We don't come home exhausted, we are refreshed and relaxed. I've come to like our rentals with washers/dryers as well, in the rental. I don't pack as much because I can wash, and I go home with clean clothes. Not much washing if you don't pack much. We go pretty simple too and if we plan on cooking, it's light simple foods.

    I can't wait for my next trip! Hiking, visiting waterfalls, photo ops abound, trails to wander, apples to pick, and a hot tub to soak in. Ahhhhhhhh! - 7/19/2011   10:32:02 AM
  • 195
    Any free moment in the day is just like a vacation. I am free to let my hair down...although my hair is very short! I enjoy my free time and I am blessed to have some every day. Yearly, I like to travel far. - 7/18/2011   6:24:03 PM
  • 194
    Absolutly! Vacations give us a breather and make us come back refreshed and rested. We should take them 365 days a year... j/k - 8/4/2010   3:31:42 PM
  • 193
    we really enjoy the planning of the vacation, like to do this as a family project. I enjoy soaking in the bath the day after coming home! - 6/14/2010   5:43:30 PM
  • 192
    OMG, "vacations" used to be a NIGHTMARE when my kids were younger! Someone would ALWAYS end up sick etc etc!! However, now a days since the kids are alot older (teens), it is SO nice to get away and spend time together as a family. We aren't able to do much "exciting" due to financial constraints but we try to make the time to be away for a few days at least... - 6/14/2010   4:24:07 PM
    I have just come back from a 9-day multi-state trip with 10-year-old triplets. I stopped calling our journeys 'vacations' long ago and just call them 'trips'. Though it is special time and memories are made, I often find my stress levels and those of the kids sky rocket and that they are actually relieved to come back to some routine. I think it helps you appreciate just how great life at home really is. Shared experiences strengthen bonds, but sometimes those things are only appreciated in hind-sight. - 5/1/2010   6:03:51 PM
  • 190
    The best place that I can relax is at home. I'm a nature nut and I have several wooded acres in a resort area. There are campgrounds all over the place where people come HERE to relax. I DO like to travel and take vacations but the purpose is never to "relax". No matter how enjoyable I find a trip, I am ALWAYS happy to get home! - 4/1/2010   8:16:39 PM
    Vaction is often needed just to prove there's NO place like home and your own Bed! lol - 4/1/2010   5:10:55 PM
  • 188
    I understand the stress but you have to really let it go once you get on vacation. I stress out the week before, just finding time to get ready. Then once I'm gone I just let it be- I remember one vacation when my girls were 7 and 3. We rented a cabin in northern MN. We got groceries with quick and easy in mind so there wouldn't be much cooking. Lots of daily plans for adventures and fishing etc. Well, my 3 year old refused to get in the boat! And they can be so stubborn. Oh well. I sent my husband off with the 7 year old and took my 3 yr old down to the beach with my book and chair and her shovel and sand toys. It was the most relaxing vacation I ever had. My 3 year old could easily entertain herself in the sand and shallow water. Every once in awhile she said mommy come play and we would splash through the water. But her attention span was short. She moved on to the sand and I went back to my chair. There were other little kids and moms doing the same. My husband and 7 yr old came back for lunch and went out again. They loved the fishing, we loved the beach. On our last day my 3 year old agreed to get in the boat. I've never laid around so much before or since. It's a great memory. And to this day my older daughter has fishing in her blood. My younger daughter just swims like a fish-water was her dream come true all through school and swim club. Her nickname is swimsuit girl, she always had it on even under her clothes! Wonder where she's going for her honeymoon???? - 4/1/2010   1:42:51 PM
  • VIVOZ1
    I stress more before the trip, getting everything ready, tying up loose ends, etc. Once there I am good to go, if I have done research and know what I want to do there. I can't lie on a beach, but hiking is a passion. When we went with kids, I made it fun. Each one got to plan a meal or pick a restaurant. I would give them choices of things to do, and they took turns deciding. Sometimes we had ice cream for breakfast, or something else wacky. A vacation is to be fun, so rather than fight, I made it enjoyable. It's only a short time, the weekly routine will be there when you get back. - 4/1/2010   7:48:01 AM
    Travel enriches my life. I don't think of it as a vacation. I don't care where I'm going, or what I'm doing, if it's a change, I'm all for it. - 4/1/2010   4:55:35 AM
  • 185
    Vacations are very necessary for me! I have to have that little getaway. I've never really took a long vacation. The weekend trips 3-4 days a few times a year works just fine for me. I do believe if I did a 2-3 week vacation coming back to reality (work, housework, bills, etc) would be a bit overwhelming and stressful. - 4/1/2010   1:35:07 AM
  • 184
    I'm usually VERY stressed the week before the vacation. I try to get EVERYTHING done before we go- all the dishes, all the laundry, all the bills, all the housework, making sure we packed everything we needed, getting the litterbox and cat food and water supplies in place, packing the car, making sure we have munchies for the ride and of course there's the music and the gas to get. And that's not including planning and budgeting for the trip in the first place!

    But once we get out on the open road I start to let go of all that stress, knowing everything's been accomplished. When I return, its a simple matter of changing the kitty litter and getting their food and water back to normal, unpacking the suitcase and doing the dirty laundry we brought home, putting anything else we brought home away, and ordering a pizza (because who wants to actually cook when you get back from a trip?? Not me!).

    However I do notice that I'm usually warn out and tired when we return. Its almost like I need a day between the vacation and going back to work to fully acclimate again- like a mini vacation from my vacation! - 3/31/2010   10:42:57 PM
  • 183
    We usually so do a 2 week vacation in the summer. A few years ago we did several short trips throughout the summer. I have to agree that it was much better to be anticipating the next trip throughout the summer then to just have a long trip that needed more planning and then on return the excitement was over. - 3/31/2010   8:39:18 PM
  • 182
    I totally agree. We almost never take a long vacation, the last one was 7 or 8 years ago. What we do is about 4 2-3 day trips and stay in really nice places, eat in really nice restuarants, etc. It is easier to afford broken up like this and you get the pleasure of the planning several times and year and no stress about having been gone too long. Last year we hit Belguim, Italy, Spain and 2 more close to home in France. It was great. - 3/30/2010   2:47:14 AM
  • 181
    All I can say is that very few mom's get a break on a family vacation. Everyone still wants to be catered to and meals provided and clean-up and preparation and so on.
    The best mom vacation is going away with a girlfriend who likes similar things and hang out and enjoy the get-away from family demands.
    Sounds selfish, but I sure feel better when I get back! And, more ready to do what normally needs doing again. ...just my 2-cents.
    - 3/30/2010   12:49:56 AM
  • VOWEBB67
    I've always said my ideal vacation would be one that allows me to stay home while the kids and hubby are away doing something fun! - 3/29/2010   11:58:43 PM
  • 179
    I have to agree with the blog, I mean, who doesn't say, "The best part of the trip is coming home again?" I like to be in my bed, my pets, my home etc. Traveling can certainly be nice as is visiting. As a teacher who has Christmas, Easter and summer months off, I often feel more tired from all the visiting even when it's people I love. - 3/29/2010   10:12:24 PM
  • 178
    The days before a vacation are very busy if I work right up to leaving. The trip is usually every thing I plan it to be. Returning I get 2 -3 days of glow and then it's right back to routine. But have the travel bug and the next month I start planing for my next trip. I'ts a never ending cycle. - 3/29/2010   7:24:19 PM
  • 177
    Wow. That makes a lot of sense. I'll be planning more weekend getaways. - 3/29/2010   4:26:48 PM
  • 176
    Short vacation are always better. We always leave one day for rest before going back to work. We take vacation to relax and enjoy ourself, if you don't do that , then why take a vacation. Kids need to stay at home, parents need to get away to relax and enjoy themselves together. We work hard 24/7 non-stop!!!!! - 3/29/2010   3:52:11 PM
    I think it depends on what kind of trip you are looking for, i went on a 3 week vacation, that i knew was going to be stressful, but i loved it none the less, it was a sight seeing trip of 5 cities in europe! def. not relaxing but memorable - 3/29/2010   3:08:43 PM
  • 174
    It depends on what you are doing for vacation. My husband's family always rented a bunch of cottages by the lake. So while the rest of the family was out fishing, swimming and having a good time, the women were cooking and cleaning. Sorry, my idea was a hotel where someone else cooks and cleans. We compromised by finding a resort that provided maid service and meals so I could enjoy the outdoors too. That's a vacation. - 3/29/2010   2:26:24 PM
  • 173
    I love going on vaccation but the prep at home and work "getting ready to go" and the "catch up " when returning, definately put a damper on the "happy" feeling vacation itself provided! But I still look forward to each one!! - 3/29/2010   12:34:56 PM
  • 172
    For me it's always a bit of give and take. It's usually somewhat stressful getting ready to go, but once I've arrived I'm good to go. My bf and I took a vacation to Ixtap Zihuatanejo two years ago; it was one of the most amazing, happy experiences of my lifetime. Talk about exotic - and erotic! Wow. I commented last night that a trip to LasVegas would be awesome - there's something about being on vacation that takes intimacy to great heights. My bf added that getting a room at the local Days Inn would do the same thing.... and come to think about it, he's probably right. It's probably more about getting away from home and into new surroundings that is so exciting! - 3/29/2010   11:35:35 AM
  • 171
    I think a change of scenery is always good for the soul. I am pretty happy at home too- I believe happiness is a choice we make. Vacations with little ones can be very stressful- when my kids were young we found that cabin camping at various state parks was very kid friendly and gave adults a chance to relax. They can play in the yard while you watch them, and there isn't much they can destroy. My next vacation is to Florida to visit my youngest son in his new apartment, and yes, I am looking forward to it. How things change! - 3/29/2010   10:50:50 AM
    I love vacations! It doesn't matter if we are just visiting family in different parts of the country, spending a few days at the beach, adding a day or two on to my husband's work travel, or actually taking a vacation to a new destination! The planning phase is very important to me. Researching the travel arrangements and things to do in the location are half the fun! The memories of special moments stay with me forever, as does the feeling of excitement or peacefulness that I experienced while away from home.

    On our most recent vacation, DH and I went on a Rose Bowl tour/trip. Our first day there it rained all day. I guess we could have been disappointed (being in California and expecting sunshine), but instead we decided it might be a movie day or a massage day. We went to a movie that we loved, then walked around the town in the rain for awhile. We stumbled on a Shiatsu Massage School and went to in to see if we could get an appointment. Sure enough, they could take us in an hour. We bided our time by going to a tea house down the street - obviously a popular place, as it was packed at 3 in the afternoon. We then went back to get massages and DH's massage therapist walked on this back! He said he had always wanted to experience that, and loved it. That evening we went to an Italian restaurant where the host and our server were both Ohio State fans. What could have been the worst day of our vacation was fabulous.

    Maybe it's all a state of mind, but my mind says "Get out there and see the world!" - 3/29/2010   9:19:22 AM
    It depends on what I do for a "vacation." If I travel somewhere then, no, I don't feel happier, just stressed. If, however, I am able to spend most of the time doing exactly what I want, e.g. reading, meditating, journaling or just staring at Lake Superior, then the effect of peace lasts for months because I have mental images to return to when I get tired or stressed. - 3/29/2010   8:34:55 AM
  • 168
    I love vacations. In the past I have been guilty of trying to do/see to much while on vacation. "I need a vacation from my vacation". So I have learned that I need to do just the fun things I want to do and leaving plenty of time for just vegging and relaxing. YES the kids still fight and the hubs sometimes still gets on my nerves but as long as I have time to myself and don't push to do to much I come back home with such a great outlook on life! - 3/29/2010   8:26:14 AM
  • 167
    no i don't see a change at all. - 3/29/2010   7:54:15 AM
  • 166
    Vacations definitely make me happier! From slums built along the train tracks in Mexico to gypsy camps under bridges in Milan, traveling always reminds me how fortunate I am to be able to think about things like counting calories and going to the gym. I like to bring gifts to distribute to the local schoolchildren, like pencils, erasers, stickers and even calendars for their classrooms. As well, I always get lots of great exercise when I travel: scuba diving and hiking barefoot through the jungle in Honduras, canyoning through the Italian Alps, or walking every morning from the Zona Rosa to the Centro in Mexico City... I'm always on the go when I'm traveling!

    This summer I'm off to Romania and Moldova. I hope to do some day hikes in the Maramures, cross into disputed Transnistria, and (time permitting) head down to the Turkish coast to scuba dive at ancient sunken cities. - 3/29/2010   12:48:36 AM
  • 165
    Vacations can be very stressful, but once you are there it can also be paradise. I spent a week last summer on a tropical island off the coast of Tanzania (Zanzibar). We had awesome food 3 times a day (too many calories but I wasn't counting at that point) went wind surfing (or tried to), dolphin watching and scuba diving, had daily massages, chilled out in our private open air room less than 30 feet from the ocean, swam in an amazing infinity pool, laid around in beach chairs and enjoyed the sun and read several books, drank lots of yummy fruit juice concoctions and iced teas, and of course enjoyed some fantastic wine and beer. We slept to the sound of the ocean and didn't have a care in the world. I frequently commented that I didn't know how their could be stress in a place like that. Paradise didn't even begin to describe it! I want to go again! - 3/29/2010   12:16:50 AM
  • 164
    i think it depends on what kind of vacation athat you are taken. I love vacations for the break of being a social worker! - 3/28/2010   10:35:53 PM
  • 163
    I also love vacations. We definitely don't go away enough because of work schedules, etc. Most of the vacations I have taken in the past have left me with wonderful memories that will last a long time. - 3/28/2010   9:29:47 PM
  • 162
    I love vacations too! You go somewhere different & enjoy the view. It can be another city or a beach. We started travelling with my son when he was 4, before that it was the cottage with Oma or Grandma, where I could get a break too! My son's been with us on 12 vacations now & I never regretted a single one. In fact we're going on a Mediterranean cruise this summer, for 2 weeks!! That's my dream vacation & it's for our 25th anniversary. Can't wait! - 3/28/2010   8:13:39 PM
    I just returned from Cancun. I really needed the vacation! No agenda and sitting by the pool everyday! Working full-time and full-time in a doctoral program, the vacation was enough to recharge!! - 3/28/2010   6:41:04 PM
  • 160
    I love vacations, with or without kids, the longer the better. That is my problem. I don't want to go home. - 3/28/2010   6:25:22 PM
  • 159
    I hate vacations. I LOVE my children with all my heart and I thank GOD for the everyday. It is just with losing weight and all that comes with that, homework, lunches, activities, laundry cleaning, preparing for the trip ect is not very relaxing to me. I am not sure if I went by myself would be better, I think that I would just worry about everything happening at home and therefore would not get any rest. I suffered a breakdown when I got back from my last vacation. I actually felt something break in my chest. I had spent the entire year with SP and exercise, eating properly for myself and family. I went on a trip to New Jersey with my mother and 2 kids, 9 and 4. It took 12 hours to get there. I did all the driving to and from including when we were there. Keeping the kids occupied was a challenge and I couldn't let me guard down because we were staying with family. I was about 1 hour from home and I called my husband and asked what was for dinner as we were going to be home soon. He laughed, I knew it was nothing. He said I can't cook what you eat cause you eat special food. I said chicken is not special food and neither is a salad. I felt a huge pain in my chest that never went away. I couldn't sleep anymore. I had more problems which just escalated. On January 6,2009 I left work and didn't go back until October 19th 2009. I had lost 80 pounds the previous year and gained every last pound of it back while I was off. The pressure from family telling me that the previous year I spent too much time on myself. I didn't know any other way to lose weight then to plan meals, exercise. I exercised 6 days a week. The kids were with me as my husband would not take care of them. I didn't know any other way. Today I am back to my journey again. I don't work out 6 days a week and I miss it A WHOLE LOT. It is what made my successful the last time. It is not just the exercise, it was the people, the support, the hugs and support from everyone. People who I didn't even know came up to me and said "Everytime you are here I see you give 150%, you inspire me to push harder". That was the best complements ever. I am on SP daily and that keeps me in line. I will do it again, it will just take time. So that was my last vacation and I will not take another one until my kids are a little more self sufficient. - 3/28/2010   5:37:55 PM
    The only reason I am going to say yes here is because when I go on vacation, I do not take cell phone calls, computer's or any other tech device. I don't make an itenarary(sorry for misspell). I just go and life is good. Vacations are just that--vacations. It is just too bad that some companies don't see it that way. - 3/28/2010   4:36:35 PM
    I love vacations. For the past few years we have gone a way for 1 to 2 weeks to the Caribbean to scuba dive. We take our teenagers out of school which has never been a problem. This year we went to Colorado for a week of skiing and that was a lot of fun too. Some vacations, such as cruises, don't require much work and some still involve cooking although we eat out a lot. We always have lots of equipment to pack & lug around but it is worth it. For me the anticipation is high, the vacation is great & enjoying the photos afterwards all add up to increased happiness :) - 3/28/2010   4:31:59 PM

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