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UCLA

The Better Weekend

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By Peg Moline

Published Oct 1, 2019 8:00 AM


Research shows a staycation can be just as refreshing as time out of town.


Illustration by Peter Ryan.

Taking vacations has been scientifically proven to improve our health, boost our job performance and trigger more creativity.

Duh. But America is not a world leader when it comes to time off. In fact, it’s the only country with an advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee workers paid time off, and about 25 percent of U.S. workers don’t get any paid holidays or vacation days.

Research also shows that our strong work ethic — some might even call it “workaholism” — leads many of us to not take the time to which we are entitled. In 2017, on average, Americans used just 17 of their 23 paid days off.

And when vacation entitlements are compared to other nations, the U.S. looks pretty miserable. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most American workers get 10 to 13 days after being employed for a year. Workers in Australia and the European Union have a mandatory minimum of 20 paid vacation days, while some EU countries have a mandatory minimum of up to 25 days per year. Japan and Canada both have a minimum allowance of 10 days after a year of employment.

UCLA Anderson School of Management researchers Colin West, Cassie Mogilner Holmes and Sanford E. DeVoe reviewed data from a Gallup poll of more than 200,000 Americans and found that, when controlling for income and days worked, folks who took more vacation days reported being happier. Sadly, there’s no big policy push encouraging us to take all our days or shift us out of our workaholic ways.

So West, Holmes and DeVoe hit on an intriguing hack that’s easy and affordable: Frame your weekend as a staycation, a vacation taken at home.

In two studies reported by the UCLA Anderson Review, West, Holmes and DeVoe found that when people were instructed to treat a weekend as a vacation, they returned to work on Monday happier than a control group that spent the weekend doing the same old, same old. The key was to spend the weekend being more present in whatever they were doing.

For the first experiment, the researchers had about 500 people rate their happiness on a scale of 1 (not happy at all) to 7 (very happy) on a Friday going into the weekend. Participants in the control group were instructed to treat the weekend like a regular weekend; the other group was told to “think in ways and behave in ways as though you were on vacation.”

When everyone went back to work on Monday, they rated their happiness and also how much they were able to focus on the present moment, using measures adapted from a 2003 study that established the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale.

Participants who treated the weekend like a vacation returned to work happier (5.24 mean score) than the control group (4.83 mean score). The vacation crowd also said they were more attuned to the present moment (4.81 mean score on a 1 to 6 scale) than the participants who spent the weekend following their regular routine (4.53 mean score).

A second group of 500, split into a control group and a study group, were told on Monday to create a diary of their weekend activities and their levels of happiness and mindfulness. Once again, the vacation group reported being more mindful and happier than the control group.

The vacation group spent less time on chores and more time eating and in intimate relations. But when the researchers controlled for the time spent on activities, they found the happiness boost was related to the level of “one’s minding of the present moment throughout the weekend” that produced greater levels of happiness when back at work.

Yes, time spent on the beach or sightseeing in a foreign country is alluring. But for those constrained by time and money, this research suggests a staycation as an accessible alternative that produces the same vacation vibes. Go ahead, try it!


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