The summer vacation season will be over in a few weeks, and shortly thereafter your post vacation glow will likely be gone as well. Surveys show that maintaining your pleasurable feelings for more than 2 weeks following a vacation is very rare, even when you’ve had a “very relaxed” time. Only a very small percentage of people are able to both return rejuvenated and able to savor the feeling for a long while afterward.
One factor that can take away from a satisfying trip is stress arising from issues such as transportation delays or disappointing accommodations. These stressors often stir relationship conflicts. People tend to take their frustrations out on each other rather than maintaining an attitude of “nothing is going to ruin enjoying our time together.” With that thought first and foremost in mind, happy couples adapt by working as partners to figure out what they can do to improve the situation.
Researchers have found spending significant time planning a vacation together reduces the risk of being disappointed. It also builds anticipation, generating abundant positive emotions that can be discussed and enjoyed for months ahead of time. The key is to create mental images of what you’ll be experiencing.
Study up on the sights that you want to see, read about the mouthwatering food that you’ll taste, and arrange some pleasurable adventures you’ll remember forever. Anticipating positive outcomes builds excitement and focuses your mind on activities that can provide a counterbalance any travel hassles you may encounter.
When you’re actually immersed in enjoying those moments you’ve anticipated, you can brand the positivity into your brain by “coming to your senses.” That is, heighten your sensory awareness: the colors in the Grand Canyon, the delight of watching a pair of playful dolphins, the smells of the ocean, the awe of night lights from atop the World Trade Center, or the rhythms of a jazz band in the Latin Quarter. By absorbing multiple sensory inputs, you’ll build better memories.
The importance of savoring time away was captured brilliantly almost two thousand years ago by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius who wrote: “Nowhere is there a more idyllic spot, a vacation home more private and peaceful, than in one’s own mind, especially when it is furnished in such a way that the merest inward glance induces ease. Take this vacation as often as you like and so charge your spirit.”
Take a few pictures or buy a piece of art that will remind you of those moments, but don’t let taking selfies in exotic locations become your focus. Self-absorption rather than engagement in the external world means you come back full of yourself rather than filled with appreciation of the awesome beauty of a universe much bigger than yourself. In addition to energizing you, studies show that awesome experiences give your life more meaning as you develop a better appreciation for your place in the world.
Pay attention to what you enjoy most on your vacation. Is it waking up looking out at the ocean? Take a picture of that scene and put it in a frame on your bed stand. Do you love watching the beautiful colors of a spectacular sunset? Capture that in a photo that you can place in a spot where you’ll see it every evening when you return home from work. To get the full effect of this relaxation approach you’ll need to pause for a moment, take a few deep breaths, and savor the memory.
Another approach for recapturing the memories of pleasurable experiences is to place items where they’ll be daily reminders. Put ticket stubs from your visit to a national park on the mirror in your dressing room in order to trigger the wonderful memories you’ve stored away. If you purchase an item of clothing while away on your trip, wear it when you’re having a blah day in order to pick your spirits up. Wearing a blouse that you purchased to go to a fantastic dinner with your partner can flood you with romantic memories of that evening.
Sharing your vacation experiences is also a strategy that works well to build and broaden the good feelings, both in yourself and others. Swedish psychologists found that when coworkers put their pictures on the wall in their office or break room, it stimulated people to swap stories about their trips. One of the best ways to strengthen your bonds with people is to respond with enthusiasm and genuine interest as they’re sharing their good times.