It’s the beginning of August, and most of the world has left not just their offices or even their cities but their countries for weeks, even the whole month, for vacation. When they come back, they’re more productive, feel better and are physically healthier.
Consider this your doctor’s note and start making plans.
Money canbuy happiness
That “money can’t buy happiness” adage has one big caveat. When you invest in an experience, the good feelings begin well before you set out, Cornell University researchers found.
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The anticipation is a great series of mood-boosters (pro tip: Make the most of this effect by booking a few months ahead next year). Trips fill our need to indulge and express an aspect of our identity in a way an impersonal object can’t match. The satisfaction we get from discussing the trip afterward lasts for months, even years.
Reboot your brain
One sure sign you need a vacation: catching yourself wondering how it’s the end of the week already every Friday morning. Routine literally lulls the brain to sleep; time feels like it’s passing quickly simply because you’re not paying attention to anything.
But when you’re about to take a cruise for the first time or zipline through a jungle in South America, it’s all hands on deck as your mind tries to process all the new information flooding in. The richness of your experiences is what’s actually making time feel like it’s passing more slowly. This is just one way your brain gets rebooted when you take it out of cruise control — and maybe, your perspective on daily life will be refreshed, too.
You don’t have to commit to hiking for miles tofeel better outdoors. Scientists aren’t sure why, but we really do feel different when we get out among the trees or into the mountains. There’s the biophilia hypothesis, otherwise known as conventional wisdom: Our bodies are simply responding to being useful again in our natural habitat (you know, not behind a desk). It could just be getting more sunshine into our vitamin D-deprived bodies.
Whatever it is, nature works, even in doses as small as 24 hours: Participants in a University of Michigan study felt happier, had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and were better able to focus. Speaking of stress, for best results, go someplace where the Internet doesn’t reach so you won’t be tempted to sneak in a few work emails before breakfast.
Awe’s role in health
When’s the last timeyou felt awe? Not just, “Hey, that’s cool,” but the sensation of being completely overwhelmed by an experience? We’re talking bucket list stuff: the Northern Lights, seeing a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado or watching the sun set from a paddleboard in Maui.
A study published in February by the University of California, Berkeley, found that feeling awe boosts your health by fighting inflammation. Communing with overwhelming sights that leave us speechless lowers the level of cytokines in our bodies, calming our immune system and staving off depression. Consistently high levels of cytokines, meanwhile, have been linked to diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Reconnect with your partner
When it comes to taking things for granted,no one’s lower on the listthan the person right next to you. Stepping out of your usual routine is already a great start — it doesn’t matter whose turn it is to take out the trash in a hotel room. Mix in some activities you’ll both enjoy, and you’ll remember why you chose to share custody of the remote control with this person.
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The key is to do things as a couple, sharing experiences (preferably something new) that you can bond over, whether relaxing together or challenging yourselves — though if you’re on shaky ground, keep it low stress.
Eva Kis is on Twitter@thisiskis, where she talks about pop culture, cats and media almost as much as food.