Hold on to that holiday state of mind

ILLUSTRATION: NEW YORK TIMES

A colleague recently returned to New York from a trip to Europe with that unmistakable just-back-from-holiday glow. Striving to hold on to it for as long as possible, she deployed various strategies, including placing her used boarding passes front and centre on her desk and leaving receipts from the TV Tower in Berlin on a bedroom chest of drawers.

"It sustains that warm vibe," she says.

Wearing clothes acquired on holiday also helps, especially if you first wore that new dress to a jazz club or while strolling from the Latin Quarter to the Marais. "It brings back the memories," she says, "because you're wearing the memories."

I began wondering about other holiday-extending tactics. Studies suggest that much pleasure can be derived from actively anticipating a holiday: looking at photos of the places you plan to visit, making dinner reservations or simply imagining yourself enjoying your time there.

Maintaining pleasure after a great holiday is more challenging. Researchers have found that the glow fades quickly. One such study, published in 2010 in the Applied Research In Quality Of Life journal, surveyed 1,530 Dutch individuals and noted that only travellers who said they had a "very relaxed" trip benefited in terms of post-trip happiness. And even among that group, the post-holiday high lasted about a mere two weeks.

One possible reason that travellers have an easier time anticipating a holiday than hanging on to its afterglow is that, in general, anticipation evokes stronger feelings and images.

All is not necessarily lost the moment you step off the plane. There are some things you can do before you travel and when you return home which may help keep you in a holiday state of mind.

Plan: Make sure your holiday is likely to provide you with happy memories by nailing down in advance the kind of details which can trip you up. Well-planned holidays lower stress.

Mr Shawn Achor, founder of Good Think, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, wrote in a blog series for the Harvard Business Review last year: "A positive, well-managed vacation can make you happier and less stressed and you can return with more energy at work and with more meaning in your life."

Reminisce: Most people snap back to their particular baseline level of happiness shortly after returning from a holiday. However, psychologists say reminiscing about a trip, even long after it is over, can bring deep pleasure in the present.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, and others suggest savouring the details of a trip (the smell of jasmine in the park and the sound of the orchestra in the amphitheatre) and sharing them with others.

Retreat: "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," wrote Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. "Take this vacation as often as you like," he continued, "and so charge your spirit."

The importance of holiday has been explored in various studies, including one published in the journal Society And Mental Health in 2013.

The authors, including Terry Hartig, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Uppsala University, Sweden, looked into whether the potential benefits of holidaying (having more energy, fewer health complaints and better life satisfaction) could spread among individuals, contributing "more to population health than the sum of benefits to individual workers".

They found that the dispensation of anti-depressants declined with an increase in the number of holidaying workers. Ideally, vast swathes of the population would take time off simultaneously for what the researchers call "collective restoration".

The researchers found that having a good holiday may not only benefit you, but it may also benefit others. Those good feelings you return with can spread to your colleagues, even though they themselves did not take a holiday.

So, consider encouraging your colleague to tack those postcards to his cubicle wall or wear that new bangle from Santorini. Who knows? The happier he is after his vacation, the happier you may be, too.

New York Times

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2015, with the headline 'Hold on to that holiday state of mind'. Print Edition | Subscribe