We've reached that time of year when, as a general rule, people only think about holidays. This anticipation is usually loaded with positive expectations and as such, it brings us wellbeing and leaves us with a smile on our face - we often even focus more on work and are able to find the extra energy to ensure that when the time comes to go on holiday, we leave everything sorted and tidy. What you may not have known is that planning and anticipating holidays brings more wellbeing than the holiday itself.

study conducted by Jeroen Nawijn from Erasmus University Rotterdam demonstrated this effect on a sample of about 1500 Dutch people. In this study, his team compared people who would go on holiday with those who would not and found two interesting things:

1. people who were going on holiday had a higher happiness index before going on holiday;

2. after the holiday there were no major differences in the happiness index of the two groups - unless the holiday had been really, really, really relaxing (i.e. without any source of stress).

In other words, it seems that making plans and thinking about that wonderful chaise longue by the sea and the book that goes with it, the walk in the mountains just listening to nature, or any other idyllic holiday setting is better than actually enjoying those moments.

It is relatively easy to understand this effect of expectations versus reality. The little vicissitudes of real life, such as an unexpected tantrum from the children, the neighbour who grills sardines every night and whose smoke comes to our door, or the family who put their towels on the beach right on top of ours are the elements that often bring stress to the intended stress-free zone, eventually turning the holiday into something that is described as follows: "had it not been for ____, the holiday would have been perfect". And so the effect of the holiday fades as we immerse ourselves in the work that has patiently waited for us.

However, in the run-up to the holidays, the limit to our imagination is the sky. The chaise-longue is on a semi-deserted beach where you can only hear the sea; there are no queues to get into the amusement park or the restaurant; and everyone knows exactly the interpersonal distance they should keep from others (which, in case you were in doubt, in Portugal is just over a metre in relation to strangers, according to a study published in 2017 in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology).

From an individual point of view, holidays seem to play a role that partly involves being something we want and dream about and whose duration (big holidays versus several breaks throughout the year) seems to have relatively little impact on our happiness.

So take advantage now that you have not yet gone on holiday to dream and thus get even more out of your holiday. If you have already had your holidays, the solution is simple: start dreaming about your next holiday as soon as possible.


Article originally published in the magazine Forbes Portugal magazine

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