This simple mindset shift can have major payoffs – and you don't even have to leave the house.

By Dan Nosowitz
February 08, 2019

Americans aren't the best at taking time off. Without guaranteed vacation days, and with the scourge of “unlimited vacation days as long as you ask first,” more than half of Americans simply don’t use up their full allotment of vacation. What Americans do take advantage of? Their weekends.

Image courtesy of Getty.
| Credit: Shot of a young couple having breakfast in their kitchen at home

A new study from Cassie Mogilner Holmes, a UCLA business professor who studies happiness, wanted to find out if there was any way to bring those two examples of time off—vacation and the weekend—together. What she found is that treating a weekend like a vacation, whatever that means for you, can have a marked positive effect on happiness the next week. In other words, if you want to scare off the fear of Monday, maybe you should treat Saturday and Sunday different.

Over two different weekends, Holmes asked 900 study participants to either do their regular weekend routines or to “treat the weekend like a vacation.” She gave no further instruction to the weekend vacationers; they ended up with some commonalities like staying in bed longer, not doing housework or job work, and eating more. The study even controlled for money spent, meaning that happiness couldn’t be gained by, say, going out to a very fancy dinner, or seeing an expensive show.

After the weekend, those told to treat their weekend like a vacation were in much higher spirits. From an essay Holmes wrote for the Harvard Business Review: “When participants were back at work on Monday, we followed up with a survey measuring their current happiness (that is, their positive emotion, negative emotion, and satisfaction). 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.”

Other research on vacations, like this 2010 study, finds that the anticipation of a vacation can be among the most pleasurable parts of the whole experience. That study also found that the length of the vacation had no effect on post-vacation happiness, but that lots of vacations can be stressful, as anyone with a child can attest to. The weekend vacations in this new study are unlikely to be very stressful at all; there’s no traveling involved, just relaxing. But most studies find that vacations are vital; a recent one even found that people who take more vacations live longer.

The new research does rely on a relatively small sample, but it’s still an interesting concept. If you simply think of your time off in a slightly different way—fewer responsibilities, more separation from your everyday life—you might end up feeling better on Monday morning. Challenge accepted.


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