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The Surprising Psychology of Going on Vacation

Image: Aisyah Yusof

Scientists questioned over 900 test participants about their happiness before and after a trip and what they found surprised them. The most happiness wasn’t experienced after or even during the trip, but beforehand. According to the study’s lead author:

Vacations do make people happy. But we found people who are anticipating holiday trips show signs of increased happiness.

Having something to look forward isn’t just a subjective experience of positive expectations, it creates positive changes in the brain too.  As highlighted in The Happiness Advantage, people who just thought about watching their favourite movie raised their endorphin level by 27 percent. Indeed, anticipation is a powerful mood booster:

Anticipating future rewards can actually light up the pleasure centers in your brain as much as the actual reward will.

Given what we know about the benefits of anticipation, put a trip on the calendar and consider the following:

Research: Study guidebooks, learn about the area and immerse yourself in future travel plans. A friend started a beautiful website called Peek.com that helps people plan the perfect trip and find great activities.  If you like travel porn, this is the ultimate in foreplay.

Communicate: Chances are someone in your social network has been to where you want to go or may even know someone who lives there. Not only will you get some insider tips, it’s also a great way to connect with friends and colleagues.

Prep: If planning a physical adventure – hiking in the rainforest, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, white water rafting, prepare your body and train rigorously beforehand. If planning a beach vacation, consider getting SCUBA certified before you leave. Read a work of fiction set in the place you plan to visit and learn a few key phrases in the native tongue.

Travel more: If you have two weeks of vacation a year, take two separate weeks rather than taking it all at one time. Better yet, take several long weekends. Studies show you will remember and appreciate different shorter experiences rather than one long one. If getting out of town isn’t an option, try a staycation: research and compile all the things you wish you could do in your hometown.

The next time you find yourself repeating the famous words, “I need a vacation,” rephrase it: “I need to plan a vacation.”