“In the same way that a good Wall Street investment appreciates in value, you want your investments of time and energy to offer high yields. They should make you feel good — happy, satisfied, energized, or relaxed.”

Marc Eisenson, Gerri Detweiler, & Nancy Castleman

Invest in Yourself: Six Secrets to a Rich Life

Life satisfaction means different things to different people—each person’s definition is unique.  But the important thing to realize is that life is multifaceted and that each facet contributes to the quality of life you experience.  Therefore, it is helpful to think of each facet as an integral component of your life portfolio, and the investments of time and attention that you make are what make your portfolio grow.

With this “whole life” view in mind, researchers have found that “Leisure & Recreation” is an area that often gets neglected.  In fact, a 2018 survey conducted by the U.S. Travel Association found that more than 50% of Americans forfeit some or all o

f their paid vacation time each year.  In addition, the survey identified work-related challenges as having the most influence on Americans’ ability or willingness to use their vacation benefits.

For example, employees who were concerned that they would appear less dedicated or even replaceable if they took a vacation were dramatically less likely to use all of their vacation time.  Likewise, those who felt their workload was too heavy to get away were also more likely to have unused vacation time, as were employees who felt there was inadequate coverage or that no one else could do their jobs.

In contrast, analysis of a recent U.S. Gallup Poll revealed that individuals who prioritize vacation time are significantly happier:

“They exhibit more positive emotion, less negative emotion, and are more satisfied in life.”

This conclusion got Cassie Mogilner Holmes, Professor of Marketing and Behavioral Decision Making at UCLA, and her colleagues to wondering how more Americans could experience this boost in happiness:

While most working Americans take little time off for vacation, the majority get (and take) two days off from work every week: the weekend.  We wanted to see if there’s a way to help people leverage the time they already take off from work to enjoy the potential happiness they would get from a vacation.  

To test their hypothesis, the researchers conducted an experiment with more than 400 working Americans one weekend in May of 2017.  The research design was quite simple:

On the Friday leading into the weekend, we randomly instructed half of the participants to treat the weekend like a vacation. The other half, serving as a control condition, was instructed to treat the weekend like a regular weekend.

The results showed that those who had treated their weekend like a vacation were significantly happier than those who had treated it like a regular weekend. This effect held even when the researchers controlled for the amount of money the study participants reported spending.  Therefore, without taking extra time off from work or
spending extra money, the simple nudge to treat their weekend like a vacation significantly increased their level happiness when they came back at work on Monday.

Because the results seemed too good to be true, the researchers repeated the experiment with 500 new participants in January 2018.  Again, the vacationers were statistically happier throughout the weekend and happier when they returned to work on Monday.

However, an important question remained:  How did treating the weekend like vacation boost happiness?  The researchers acknowledged that the vacationer group behaved somewhat differently (e.g., doing less housework and work for their jobs, staying in bed a little longer, eating a bit more).  But, they don’t believe these differences in activities were responsible for the vacationers’ increased happiness.

Instead, treating the time like a vacation seems to have shifted people’s mindset. Specifically, the vacationers were more mindful of and attentive to the present moment throughout their weekend’s activities…

… Our experiments suggest that your mindset is more important than the activities you take part in, or the amount of money you spend, when you’re not at work.

What this research indicates is that simply reframing your weekend experience can help you to enjoy a dose of “vacation happiness” without taking time off.  Slowing down, paying more attention to your surroundings, savoring your activities, and fully tuning into the people involved will allow you to enjoy your time off more.

In fact, the researchers recommendation to be “more mindful of and attentive to the present moment” can be applied to all of your leisure activities—not just your weekend experience.  Always keep in mind that leisure is essential for nurturing and maintaining your well-being.  Therefore, it is important to choose leisure activities that are meaningful to you.  Your leisure time is a precious commodity and should be spent in ways that bring you enjoyment and are truly effective in refreshing your body, mind, and spirit.



Reprinted by permission of Money Quotient, NP