Is there an ideal vacation time?

Vacation is great. We are happy when we plan it, and the vacation itself reduces the risk of depression and a heart attack. Returning to work after a vacation, we are ready for new achievements and full of new ideas.

But how long should the rest last? And is it possible to apply an economic concept called the “bliss point” to determine the ideal length of a vacation, whether it’s a party in Vegas or a hike in the mountains?

Isn’t there a lot of good stuff?

The concept of “point of bliss” has two different but related meanings.

In the food industry, this means the perfect proportions of salt, sugar and fat that make foods so tasty that consumers want to buy them again and again.

But it is also an economic concept, which means the level of consumption at which we are most satisfied; a peak beyond which any further consumption makes us less satisfied.

For example, different flavors in a meal can overload the brain, dampening our desire to eat more, which is called “sensory-specific satiety.” Another example: listening to your favorite songs too often changes how our brains react to them, and we stop liking them.

So how does this work with holidays? Many of us are familiar with that feeling when we are ready to go home, even if we are still having a great time. Is it possible that even while relaxing on the beach or exploring new interesting places, we can get fed up with the rest?


It’s all about dopamine

Psychologists suggest that the cause is dopamine, the neurochemical responsible for pleasure that is released in the brain in response to certain biologically significant actions such as eating and sex, as well as stimuli such as money, gambling or love.

Dopamine makes us feel good, and according to Peter Wuust, professor of neuroscience at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, exploring new places for us, in which we adapt to new conditions and cultures, causes dopamine levels to spike.

The more complex the experience, he says, the more likely we are to enjoy the release of dopamine. “The same type of experience will quickly tire you out. But a varied and complex experience will keep you interested longer, which will delay reaching the point of bliss.”

The pleasure of new

There are not many studies on this subject. Jeroen Naveen, a senior lecturer and researcher at the University of Applied Sciences in Breda in the Netherlands, points out that most research on holiday happiness, including his own, has been done on short trips of no more than a couple of weeks.

His participation of 481 tourists in the Netherlands, most of whom were on trips of 17 days or less, found no evidence of a point of bliss.

“I don’t think people can reach the point of bliss in a relatively short vacation,” says Naveen. “Rather, it can happen on long trips.”

There are several theories about why things happen this way. And the first of them is that we just get bored – like when we listen to songs on constant repetition.

One showed that between one-third and slightly less than half of our happiness on vacation comes from feeling new and out of the routine. On long trips, we have more time to get used to the stimuli around us, especially if we stay in one place and perform similar activities, such as at a resort.

To avoid this feeling of boredom, you can simply try to diversify your vacation as much as possible. “You can also enjoy a few weeks of uninterrupted vacation if you have the funds and the opportunity to do different activities,” says Naveen.


Leisure time matters

According to , published in the Journal of Happiness Research, how happy we are when we rest depends on whether we have autonomy in our activities. The study found that there are several ways to enjoy leisure time, including completing tasks that challenge us and provide opportunities for learning, as well as meaningful activities that fill our lives with some purpose, such as volunteering.

“Different activities make different people happy, so pleasure seems to be a very individual feeling,” says Lief Van Boven, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder.

He believes that the type of activity can determine the point of bliss, and notes that it is important to consider the psychological and physical energy needed to perform it. Some activities are physically tiring for most people, such as hiking in the mountains. Others, like noisy parties, are both mentally and physically exhausting. Van Boven says that during such an energy-draining vacation, the point of bliss can be reached more quickly.

“But there are also multiple individual differences to consider,” says Ad Wingerhotz, professor of clinical psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. He says that some people may find outdoor activities energizing and beach time exhausting, and vice versa.

“By doing what suits our personal tastes and limiting activities that drain our energy, we can delay reaching the point of bliss,” he says. But no studies have yet been done to test whether this hypothesis is correct.

Suitable environment

Another important factor may be the environment in which the holiday takes place. For example, exploring new cities can be an exciting new experience, but crowds and noise can cause physical and emotional stress and anxiety.

“The constant stimuli of the urban environment can overload our senses and cause us stress,” says Jessica de Bloom, a researcher at the Universities of Tampere and Groningen in Finland and the Netherlands. “This also applies when we have to adapt to a new, unfamiliar culture.”

“This way, you will reach the point of bliss faster in an urban environment than in nature, which we know can greatly improve mental well-being,” she says.

But even in this aspect, individual differences matter. Colin Ellard, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Waterloo in Canada, says that while some people may find the urban environment exhausting, others may genuinely enjoy it. He says that city dwellers, for example, might feel more comfortable while relaxing in the city, as studies show that people enjoy familiar stimuli.

Ellard says it’s possible that urban lovers are just as physiologically stressed as everyone else, but don’t know it because they’re used to stress. “In any case, I believe that reaching the point of bliss also depends on demographic characteristics,” he says.


Know yourself

In theory, there are many ways to delay reaching the point of bliss. Planning where you will go, what you will do and with whom is the key to discovering your point of bliss.

Ondrej Mitas, an emotion researcher at the University of Breda, believes that we all subconsciously adjust to our point of bliss, choosing the types of recreation and activities that we think we will enjoy and the time we need for them.

This is why, in the case of family and group holidays in which many people participate, the point of bliss is usually reached more quickly. In the case of such a holiday, we simply cannot prioritize our individual needs.

But according to Mitas, that lost autonomy can be regained by building strong social bonds with your fellow campers, which is shown to be an important predictor of happiness. In this case, according to him, reaching the point of bliss may be delayed.

Mitas adds that the problem is that most of us seem to be prone to making erroneous predictions about future happiness because it shows that we are not very good at predicting how decisions will make us feel in the future.

“It will take a lot of thought, a lot of trial and error, to find out what makes us happy and for how long – only then can we find the key to postponing the point of bliss during rest.”

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