From The Boston Globe:
How should you spend your time off? Believe it or not, science has some answers.
Monday summer officially begins, and freed from the hunker-inducing cold, New Englanders’ imaginations have already turned to vacation: to idle afternoons and road trips, to the beach and the Berkshires. School is out, and the warm weekends stretch before us, waiting to be filled. Of course, this creates its own pressures. Where to go? When? What to do? Is it better to try somewhere new and exotic, or return to a well-loved spot? Doze on the beach or hike the ancient ruins? Hoard vacation days for a grand tour, or spread them around? Time off is a scarce resource, and as with any scarce resource, we want to spend it wisely. Partly, these decisions are matters of taste. But there are also, it turns out, answers to be found in behavioral science, which increasingly is yielding insights that can help us make the most of our leisure time. Psychologists and economists have looked in some detail at vacations — what we want from them and what we actually get out of them. They have advice about what really matters, and it’s not necessarily what we would expect.
For example, how long we take off probably counts for less than we think, and in the aggregate, taking more short trips leaves us happier than taking a few long ones. We’re often happier planning a trip than actually taking it. And interrupting a vacation — far from being a nuisance — can make us enjoy it more. How a trip ends matters more than how it begins, who you’re with matters as much as where you go, and if you want to remember a vacation vividly, do something during it that you’ve never done before. And though it may feel unnecessary, it’s important to force yourself to actually take the time off in the first place — people, it turns out, are as prone to procrastinate when it comes to pleasurable things like vacations as unpleasant ones like paperwork and visits to the dentist. “How do we optimize our vacation?” asks Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University and the author of the new book “The Upside of Irrationality.” “There are three elements to it — anticipating, experiencing, and remembering. They’re not the same, and there are different ways to change each.”