Is it really always better on holiday?

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Vacation is always something you look forward to—dreaming of sandy toes, sunscreen and sleeping in as you plod through those final days of work before the holiday starts. Yet, according to a new study from a team of Dutch researchers, it may be the anticipation that makes us happiest. In an analysis of 1,530 people, 974 of whom took a vacation during the study, researchers found that, unsurprisingly, people anticipating a trip reported feeling more content than those not about to go on vacation. But, perhaps more interesting, people reported being happiest in the lead-up to the vacation.

Once holidaymakers returned from their trip, generally speaking, they were no more likely to experience an afterglow of happiness than those who’d been working away the whole time. Only vacationers who’d been on what the researchers describe as a “very relaxed holiday trip” showed any signs of a lingering surge in happiness once they’d returned, but this afterglow lasted only about two weeks, and had vanished completely by eight weeks.

The findings, published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, suggest that, to maximize on the restorative powers of vacation, people should take multiple short breaks over the course of the work year, instead of saving everything for one long trip, the researchers argue. And, emphasizing the obvious, they also suggest that, when it comes to planning a vacation, holidaymakers should make low-stress a top priority.

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