That doesn't mean what you think, either. Treating your weekend like a vacation actually has very little to do with the activities you plan or the money you spend...
Researchers at Harvard Business Review looked at the effects that vacations have had on thousands of Americans via 2014-2016 data from the Gallup U.S. Daily Poll. What they discovered: Those who prioritize vacation are significantly happier, exhibiting more positive emotions and less negative emotions — and being overall more satisfied with life — than those who let their time off fall to the wayside.
That's helpful insight, barring one issue: Americans seldom take vacations. Americans are constantly forgoing their paid time off
, concerned about their workloads (or the workloads to which they'd return after a vacation), worried about appearing unreliable and anxious about unplugging. While the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn't legally mandate vacation (one out of every four employed Americans doesn't actually receive paid vacation days at all), more than 50 percent of Americans
leave their paid vacation days unused every single year.
If you're one of those Americans struggling with the concept of taking off, it's likely that, at the very least, you have your weekends to utilize. And the researchers at Harvard Business Review set out to help people like you leverage those precious weekends — and even enjoy the same level of happiness you may get from an actual vacation.
They looked at more than 400 working Americans over the span of a "regular weekend" in May 2017. Simply, they instructed half of the participants to treat the weekend like a vacation upon leaving their offices on Friday. They told the other half, in control conditions, to treat the weekend like a regular weekend. And all the participants could take those instructions and do whatever they wanted, interpreting a "vacation" and a "regular weekend" however they wanted, during their two days off.
Come Monday's follow-up via a survey measuring their current happiness, those who treated their weekends like vacations were significantly happier than those who didn't. And this was true even regardless of how much money the participants spent on activities, suggesting that you don't need to take a lot of time off or spend a lot of money in order to feel like you had a vacation over your weekend.
If you don't believe the results, the researchers ran a second study with more than 500 people on a regular weekend in January 2018, this time also measuring how happy people were during the weekend, how they spent their two days, and to what extent that they were mentally present. The participants were given the exact same instructions and, come Monday, their surveys offered up the exact same results. And not only were the vacationers statistically happier come Monday, but they were also happier throughout the weekend, as well.
In the second study, the researchers found that the vacationers performed less housework (and work for their jobs), they stayed in bed a little longer with their partners and they ate more. But, according to the researchers, those small differences in activities weren't responsible for their increased happiness. Rather, simply thinking of the weekend as a vacation meant that they were more mindful of and attentive to the present moment. And that's what made them enjoy the weekend more.
So the next time you need a vacation and can't (or don't want to) actually take one, try treating your weekend like one instead. It may be exactly the boost you need.
"One word of caution: Given that the vacation mindset and resulting happiness stems from mentally breaking from routine and the day-to-day grind, this intervention cannot itself become a routine," writes researcher Cassie Mogilner Holmes. "Treating every single weekend or evening off from work like a vacation might cause a reduction in its cognitive and emotional impact. We recommend saving the mental vacations for when you really need the break."
Just remember: Your mindset is more important than the actual activities you're doing or the money you're spending doing them.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.