Creating a more memorable vacation can extend the happiness it creates
Don't compare your vacation experiences with those of your friends and coworkers
The sad thing about vacations is that they end. However much fun you’re having at the beach or carving down a ski mountain or at your sustainable carbon-neutral ecolodge in the rainforest, the specter of your trip home and the resumption of normal day-to-day annoyances is always right there.
And as Jennifer Senior pointed out last year, there is indeed a fair amount of research showing that shortly after you return from a vacation, your happiness level bounces back to where it was beforehand. Senior quoted psychologist and vacation researcher Jessica de Bloom, who along with some colleagues wrote in one paper that “Most vacations seem to have strong, but rather short-lived effects.”
But that doesn’t mean one should despair or cancel that plane ticket. Happiness research and consumer psychology have advanced to the point where there are some clear recommendations that can help you maximize the amount of happiness you get from your vacation — even if that peak vacation high is inevitably going to dissipate.
In terms of happiness-per-dollar-spent, vacations are the right idea in general. A lot of past research has suggested that experiences in general provide more happiness than material goods. That’s partly because — excited new owners of the latest iPhone who won’t shut up notwithstanding — humans generally have more of a tendency to talk about experiences than mere stuff.
“When one buys an experience, they seem to be buying themselves a story as well,” said Dr. Amit Kumar, a social psychologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business who studies the relationship between money and happiness. “So one way vacations continue to provide hedonic benefits even after they’ve long since passed is because they live on in the stories we tell.”
In an article currently in press in the Personality and Social Psychology bulletin, Kumar and Cornell’s Dr. Thomas Gilovich further buttressed this finding by asking study participants to think about material versus “experiential” purchases they had made in the past. “Experiential purchases (many of which were travel-related) made people happier than material purchases,” said Kumar, “and this was explained by the fact that experiences provided more conversational value.”
That’s not the start and the end of it, though — not every conversation about an experience makes you happier. Some research, for example, has shown that conversations that involve comparing a given experience (or product) to others like it can reduce the happiness b