The majority of Americans receive just 10 paid vacation days a year. That means you’ve likely got a mere two weeks off of work — which accounts for just three percent of your year — to visit family, take a self-care day, or to finally take that dream vacation.
But there are ways to strategically use those rare out-of-office days to prolong that vacation-induced happiness. Here are a few ways to use your vacation to make you a happier person at home all year long.
Actually enjoy yourself on vacation.
The first step in bringing your happiness home with you is to actually have a delightful vacation in the first place. And that happiness simply comes down to knowing who you are, what you like, and just doing exactly what you want to do on your trip.
According to research by Jordi Quoidbach, a psychological scientist at the University of Liege, Belgium, people tend to ignore their own personalities when they think about what lies ahead — be it on vacation or in life — and miscalculate their own needs.
“It might be worthwhile, before you make a big decision, to think about your personality and how you usually react,” Quoidbach told the Association for Psychological Science. While thinking about vacation, he noted to not “focus too much on the event; think about who you are.” In other words, if you want to go skiing, head to Vail. If you like hiking, go to Machu Picchu. Don’t force a beach vacation just because Instagram tells you it’s popular.
Make a post-vacation resolution you can stick to.
Before you check out, think deeply about what made you happy during your trip. Was it the activities, the relaxation time, the food, or something else? Then, make a resolution to bring a piece of that magic back with you.
For example, if you found the relaxation to be the best part of your trip, make a resolution to find more time to meditate in your day-to-day life.
“Vacation is a really great time to initiate healthy habits that you just don't have the time or energy to start during your day to day life,” Dr. Megan Jones Bell, a clinical psychologist and chief science officer at meditation and mindfulness app Headspace, previously told Travel + Leisure. As she noted, people are much more likely to pull healthy routines back into their lives if they can start them in a happy, conducive environment, like on a vacation.
Buy a few key items to keep the happiness going at home.
Along your journey, pick up one or two (or three or four) souveniers that will help you remember the happy vacation for years to come. It could be something as small as a piece of locally crafted jewelry, a textile, or even a few delicious treats to snack on at home that will remind you of your happier vacation days. Better yet, pick up a local cookbook with recipes from the region so you can go home and recreate those amazing meals.
Share your memories with your friends.
According to a series of studies published by Cornell University psychologists, people found more enjoyment in discussing experiences they had than discussing the things that they bought. And it was a happiness that could last for both the short- and long-term.
"Although our material goods 'disappear' through habituation," the scientists wrote, "our experiential purchases live on in the memories we cherish and, as we have shown here, in the stories we tell."
To share your experience with friends without making it sound like a brag, plan a special night where you cook all your buddies a dish from that local cookbook you bought. That way their tummies will be full as you regale them with your adventure.
Start planning your next vacation ASAP.
Sure, you may have just gotten back from your last trip, but there’s no time like the present to begin planning your next outing. And, as it turns out, this is when you’ll find the most happiness too.
According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, planning and anticipating a vacation will make you happier than actually taking one.
According to the researchers, that’s because this is the time when vacationers could dream of what their trip would be like. When some people deem their vacation as unsuccessful or stressful, they aren’t as happy during or after the trip.
"The practical lesson for an individual is that you derive most of your happiness from anticipating the holiday trip," Jeroen Nawijn, the study's lead author, told The New York Times.