Coping With Post Holiday Blues

Travel is a beautiful escape from reality. There is no finer way to remove oneself from life’s dirty, mundane realities than to plan a trip. Hate your job? Have a broken heart? Bored with your lot in life? Step right up and book a ticket to just about anywhere. The trip might change your life – or maybe it won’t. The travel industry would like you to believe that a vacation can make you happier. But coming home can be a bitch.

Travel represents freedom, a taste of the good life. It’s easy to visit a beautiful place and think, “I want to live here.” Seize the temptation to bottle up that little whiff of travel euphoria and make it last by not going home. Removing oneself from the daily routine inspires reflection, and travelers often make major life decisions on or right after a trip. But when they return from a trip, especially a very good one, they aren’t quite in a rational frame of mind.As many of us settle back in to work after Memorial Day weekend trips, it’s a good time to ask the question: did your escape produce any lasting happiness bump, or did the good vibes disappear the moment you arrived home to a pile of bills and dirty laundry? I’ve never been very good at going home and according to Dr. Jeroen Nawijn, a lecturer at NHTV Breda University in the Netherlands who studies the correlation between holidays and happiness, I’m not alone.

Dr. Nawijn has written a number of scholarly articles on this topic (some of them available by searching under Nawijn J on Google Scholar) including “The Holiday Happiness Curve,” “Happiness through Vacationing: Just a Temporary Boost or Long-Term Benefits?” and “How Do We Feel on Vacation?” to name just a few. Dr. Nawijn’s research indicates that travelers are a bit happier than non-travelers over all, but the impact of a vacation on happiness is small and it tends to disappear when people return home. The act of planning a trip makes people happy, as does the trip itself, but the happiness bump doesn’t last.

I contacted Dr. Nawijn to ask him about this dynamic and he wrote that “autonomy, or a sense of freedom” is a major reason why people feel happy on a trip and the fact that this autonomy disappears when they return home is why the bump doesn’t last. I asked him what advice he had for travelers coping with post-vacation blues and he replied, “Expect to feel great on vacation and cherish the memories once you’re home. These memories form the basis for anticipating the next trip and offer brief moments of elevated happiness.”

Based upon his research, it would be logical to conclude that if the anticipation of a trip is almost as good as the holiday itself, that one should plan several short trips rather than one big one. But I’m not sure I subscribe to that theory. Dr. Nawijn’s research and my own experience dictates that near the end of a great trip, a traveler begins to dread going home. On a trip of a week or two, you have plenty of time to let go, but on a three- or four-day escape, the gloomy prospect of returning home hits you all too soon.

Researchers from the University of Vermont seemed to underscore that point in an April study that examined some four million tweets from 2011 to study the correlation between happiness and distance from home. They concluded that the further from home someone is, the happier they are.

Expedia conducted a far less scientific online study about vacations and happiness earlier this month and, not surprisingly, their conclusions were rosier than Dr. Nawijn’s findings. Expedia reports that travelers are happier, hornier and like their jobs more than people who stay home. According to their study, 47 percent of people who went on vacations last year like their jobs while 71 percent of those who haven’t vacationed in five years don’t. And 61 percent of those who vacation annually are satisfied with life. But I would have liked to see them ask this question: are you happier when you return from a trip compared to before?

Yet another travel and happiness survey, released in March, concluded that 83 percent of us consider travel an important component to happiness. I concur that for restless souls, like me, staying home is a surefire recipe for depression.

There are ways to cope with the inevitable come down of returning home. Give yourself at least a day after a trip before you have to return to work. Document your trip in writing, and take photos and videos you can enjoy later on. Collect business cards and other little reminders of places that will bring back good memories. And plan outings in your hometown that will make you feel like you are back on the road. But I’ve found that there is only one sure method to cope with post-holiday blues: start planning your next trip.

Travel Farther To Be Happier, Says Science

In a new study conducted at the University of Vermont, researchers have discovered that the farther you are from home, the happier you are. The BBC reports that social scientists mined data from 37 million geotagged tweets sent by 180,000 people to determine the correlation between happiness and travel, in a science that The New York Times calls “twitterology.”

Tweeters’ happiness was determined by the frequency of positive words (“beach,” “beautiful,” “amazing,” etc.) and negative words (“no,” “can’t,” “never,” and so on) in their tweets. Some words carried more positive or negative weight than others. The researchers then compiled the data to give a measure of happiness based on a scale they call the hedonometer.

As it turns out, the farther people had traveled from their centralized location, which the researchers took to be the average between work and home, the happier were their tweets. Moreover, those who traveled farther afield on average were happier than all the others.

Despite the seemingly obvious correlation found in the results, the study pointed out that happiness might simply be correlated to a higher socioeconomic status. Those who can travel far and wide usually have the money and time to do so, after all.

But there’s also the question of whether we really are tweeting our genuine feelings when we’re traveling. Personally, I’ve never seen someone say that they are “col” – crying out loud – in my feed, while the lol-ers run rampant. I’ve met travelers who have been hit by cars, had every piece of their gear stolen and who have been caught in natural disasters, and they tend to put a positive spin on it, at least in social media. And just glance at the examples of the “13 Travel Tweeters That Drive Us Crazy” to witness the unmitigated affected gaiety. But we know that happy people deal with hardships better, so perhaps this preponderance of positivity is support for the findings after all?

[Photo Credit: nan palmero]

Costa Rica Named Happiest Country In The World

Looking for a travel destination where the people are always smiling? You may want to consider Costa Rica for your next trip.

The New Economics Foundation has announced the findings of their Gallup World Poll in their Happy Planet Index. First the poll asked people to rate their quality of life on a scale from 1 to 10. Then, life expectancy and the amount of land necessary to sustain the country’s way of life were factored in. The top 10 happiest countries were found to be:

1. Costa Rica
2. Vietnam
3. Colombia
4. Belize
5. El Salvador
6. Jamaica
7. Panama
8. Nicaragua
9. Venezuela
10. Guatemala

Additionally, the unhappiest places in the world were found to be Qatar, Chad and Botswana.

[image via José R.]

Money buys happiness, except maybe in Spain

The five happiest countries in the world have two things in common: their all pretty far north in Europe, and money generally isn’t a problem. Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands top the latest list of the world’s happiest nations, due in large part, it seems, to the fact that basic needs are covered by sufficient incomes. Spain, on the other hand, ranked seventeenth of 21 European countries … it must be the relaxed lifestyle.

Gallup, which conducted the study, found that money is good for a certain kind of bliss:

“Money is an object that many or most people desire and pursue during the majority of their waking hours,” researchers wrote in the report. “It would be surprising if success at this pursuit had no influence whatsoever when people were asked to evaluate their lives.”

Denmark boasted a per-capital GDP of $36,000 last year, putting it ahead of 196 of the 227 countries for which the CIA collects data (don’t go down the conspiracy road – it’s for the agency’s “World Factbook”).

Now, monetary satisfaction only addresses how happy people are about future prospects. When it comes to day-to-day smiles, having basic social needs is much more important, which is why Gallup found that Costa Rica finished sixth:

“Costa Rica ranks really high on social and psychological prosperity,” says [Jim] Harter [chief scientist at Gallup]. “It’s probably things systemic to the society that make people over time develop better relationships, and put more value on relationships. Daily positive feelings rank really high there.”

So, there are two keys to happiness: being rich and being loved. How do you measure up?

[photo by dotbenjamin via Flickr]

Happiness expedition around the world

Toño, Kelly and Tony are a team of three multilingual “happiness ambassadors” embarking on Expedition 206, a Coca-Cola sponsored trek around the world in search of happy things. Margarita Alvarez (pictured far left), president of the Coca-Cola Happiness Institute in Madrid, met with the team to share notes beforehand.

“The research we’ve done to study happy people and the causes of happiness will provide a good foundation for the ambassadors as they travel the world seeking out and documenting stories of joy and optimism,” Alvarez said. “These are three of the most energetic, uplifting people I’ve ever met, so it’ll be fun to watch them interact with so many different people from all corners of the earth.”

Expedition 206 has already begun — the three chosen ones, Kelly Ferris, 23, a university student from Brussels, Tony Martin, 30, a Washington DC native who teaches kindergarten in Munich and Antonio “Toño” Santiago, 24, a university student from Mexico City celebrated the beginning of their journey by eating the traditional “12 grapes of luck” (one for each stroke of the clock at midnight) on the stroke(s) of the new year in Madrid last weekend. Their next stop was Portugal, and they’re currently in Venezuela, heading next for Trinidad. The HAs will be attending the Shanghai World Expo in May, the Vancouver Olympics, and the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Luckies.

So what does being a “happiness ambassador” entail? The team will visit 206 countries total to deliver one-of-a-kind, commemorative Coca-Cola bottles and record every happy thing they see around the world with photos and blogs on their Expedition 206 website, Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and Yahoo. You can also enter live chats with members of the team and other fans to talk about happiness, share tips about what to see and help build the happiness community — no Coca-Cola required.