Holidays through rose tinted sunglasses

Photo by Flickr user entelepentele. Click for sourceThe Boston Globe has a counter-intuitive piece on the psychology of holidays, noting, among other things, that overall enjoyment is not what makes a break likely to feel better and that we often enjoy planning the vacation more than taking it.

The article speculatively (but reasonably) applies findings from the behavioural economics of pleasure but also discusses research that specifically addresses our experience of taking time off.

But research looking at how people actually feel about their vacations suggests that, by and large, they remember them warmly — more warmly, in fact, than they feel while taking them. The psychologists Leigh Thompson, of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and Terence Mitchell, of the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, in 1997 reported the results of a study in which they asked people on three different vacations — a trip to Europe, Thanksgiving break, and a three-week bicycle tour of California — to fill out a series of emotional inventories before the vacation, during it, and then after.

They found that in all three cases, the respondents were least happy about the vacation while they were taking it. Beforehand, they looked forward to it with eager anticipation, and within a few days of returning, they remembered it fondly. But while on it, they found themselves bogged down by the disappointments and logistical headaches of actually going somewhere and doing something, and the pressure they felt to be enjoying themselves.

A recent Dutch study had a more striking finding. Looking not at vacation memories, but measuring general happiness level through a simple three-question questionnaire, the researchers found that going on vacation gave a notable boost to pre-vacation mood but had hardly any effect on post-vacation feelings. Anticipation, it seems, can be a more powerful force than memory.

Link to Globe article ‘The best vacation ever’.

One Comment

  1. Posted June 24, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Well that’s a relief because I don’t
    much like going away on vacation
    and have been feeling like I should. A
    real holiday for me is getting to do
    whatever I want at home.


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