There comes a point in nearly every trip where you turn to your travel buddy and say, “I wish we could stay on vacation forever.” It’s part of the package: the pre-trip jitters, the first-day disbelief and excitement, the day five passing thought that you might actually murder your companion, and, before finally heading home, the dream: I could stay here. I could really do it.
It’s all part of the ritual, wishing your life could be a vacation. That’s the goal, right?
Not according to science. New research indicates that a forever-vacation might not be ideal. In fact, a new study in the Journal of Happiness Studies claims that the perfect vacation length is eight days when it comes to maximizing health and wellness benefits.
Researchers at the Radboud University Nijmegen Behavioral Science Institute in the Netherlands set out to determine how vacations affect health and wellness, broken down into six categories — health status, fatigue, satisfaction, mood, tension, and energy level. They also studied whether or not the positive effects of vacation had a lasting impact on individuals after they returned to work.
Their conclusion: happiness peaks on day eight and longer vacations don’t have much more of a net positive effect.
To which we say: science is a liar sometimes.
According to previous studies, taking time off from work leads to endless benefits, including “higher life satisfaction, better mood, lower levels of health complaints, and lower levels of exhaustion after vacation.” Meanwhile, this particular study was done from the point of view of maximizing health and wellness for the sake of productivity. The researchers were specifically interested in how the health and wellness metrics affected employees at work before, during, and after vacation. So the study’s assertion about ideal vacation length should be taken with a grain of salt, as it is couched in terms of capitalist productivity, not in terms of overall satisfaction with life. In an era when we are shifting away from productivity as a metric, the conclusions of this study deserve to be questioned.
Interestingly enough, the study showed that a sense of health and wellness return to pre-vacation levels within a week of returning to work, but around week four, wellness levels rise in relation to vacation duration. Which means that the post-vacation doldrums are very real, but that longer vacations can actually help overall wellness in the long run. Seems like a better conclusion to draw, if you ask us.
The takeaway? If you have the means (especially if you’re an American with limited vacation time), take the longer vacation. Relish your free time. You’re a human, not a robot meant to maximize your productivity, so you deserve to relax on a beach somewhere beautiful. Science be damned.