Time for a break
As the schools break up in the U.K. for the summer vacation, many people are focussed on their upcoming annual holiday. The nature of “the holiday” varies from something that people spend significant money on and involves travelling to far flung places through to some time at home or visiting relatives. However, the underlying idea is to have a break from work to allow rest, relaxation and recuperation. Research suggests that without such breaks our well-being can suffer. So even though some studies suggest the effect of a holiday on well-being can appear relatively short lived, on some measures, they are good for us (de Bloom, Geurts & Kompier 2013).
Can we get more benefit from our holiday?
So can Positive Psychology help us to get a better return on our investment of time and money in our holiday? I think so. Let’s look at “the holiday” from the point of view of Seligman’s PERMA model of well-being. This suggests five key features which underpin well-being and flourishing which are; Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement. We will look at each in turn.
De Bloom et al. (2013) found positive and pleasurable experiences to be key to boosting well-being during and after a vacation in their study of 54 employees. Holidays are a time when give ourselves permission to be hedonistic and learning to savour these experiences can promote well-being. Savouring means intensely focussing on a pleasurable experience leading to it being both enhanced and prolonged. This is a skill that can be developed with practice. You can also savour an experience in anticipation and in retrospect and both these forms of savouring can spread the effects of a holiday on well-being. There is always something to savour. For me, floating on my back in the warm Mediterranean Sea at night gazing up at the clear star filled sky, is pretty much my idea of heaven. However, listening to the rhythm of the rain on the tent in a field in Devon can also be a joyful experience, if you savour it. Being somewhere new and beautiful presents opportunities to connect with and appreciate nature, architecture and people. So take photos to help remind you of the beautiful rose you saw so you can savour it again when you go home. However, don’t let taking photos rob you of the real experience of looking at the flower and inhaling it’s scent, feeling the softness of the petals. Food is often an important part of holidays. Again, don’t just eat it really savour it.
Engagement is about being really involved in what you’re doing, present, focused, energised and invested. Many people, due to our super-connected society, feel the pressure of work even when they are on holiday. If you can, avoid taking work with you. If you have to be available, try to set limits and make sure you have time to really engage in relaxing, sightseeing or whatever else your holiday entails. Remember that to continue to work effectively you need to replenish your physical and psychological reserves. Also being on technology is not relaxation in terms of what your brain is doing. Again try to set some boundaries. This can be challenging, especially if you have teenagers, but can be worth the effort and you can’t expect your children to disconnect from their devices if you are always on the phone to work or answering emails.
Having positive relationships in our lives is a cornerstone of flourishing and holidays are an ideal time to build on this. Spending time with family and friends away from the pressures of everyday life allows you to really focus on connecting. This is a chance to do things together, eat meals together, take time to stop and talk, really listen and truly appreciate the people we share our lives with. O.K., there is also the potential for arguments! Try not to have too high expectations. It will not be harmonious all the time, people get tired, hungry and ratty, that happens, let it go. You don’t have to be together all the time, people need space and don’t always want to do the same things, plan for that. But also seize opportunities to be together and savour them.
Meaning is about what matters to us in life and feeling part of something bigger than ourselves. Finding time to step back and reflect on life is not always easy during the hectic everyday lives that most people live. An important part of a holiday can be taking the time to really check in with yourself. How am I? What is going well? What isn’t? How can I change that? What do I really care about? How can I make that a bigger part of my life? Time for rest and quiet promotes this type of self-reflection. Being away from home especially in another culture can also help to give you a new perspective on what you value and why.
Feeling that we have achieved something, not surprisingly, is good for our well-being and sense of self. Unless you’re climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for charity, achievement is perhaps not the first thing you think about in relation to holiday. For most people it’s about relaxing. However, we are goal driven creatures and too much time with no structure can leave us feeling unfulfilled. I think it’s good to plan not too much or too little on holiday. If you don’t aim to do anything you may end up feeling you’ve wasted your holiday but if you over plan you feel exhausted and stressed. So just because you have bought a one-day museum pass doesn’t mean you have to get round every museum in Paris (Dad!!), but not having any aspirations at all can be demotivating. Holiday goals don’t have to be hugely adventurous and could simply be reading a book that’s been on the shelf since Christmas. However, being somewhere different does give the opportunity for new experiences and challenges which are good for our well-being and part of a sense of achievement. So try something you’ve never eaten before, have a go at windsurfing, attempt to speak a foreign language, even if it’s only to say please and thank-you. You just might find yourself by getting lost in something new.
De Bloom, J., Geurts, S. & Kompier, M. (2013). Vacation (after-) effects on employee health
and well-being, and the role of vacation activities, experiences and sleep. J Happiness Stud 14:613–633
About the Author: Sarah Monk