Recently on Facebook, I am seeing a lot more pictures of families vacationing in different parts of the world: Europe, China, Arizona, Michigan and so on. Shots of stunning sceneries and relaxed-looking people flooded the social media pages.  Summer is surely a wonderful time to get out, get away and enjoy the beautiful world.

All the colorful photos along with the cheerful descriptions made me wonder to what degree is vacation correlated with happiness.  Most people want to be happy and seek ways to become happier.  Happiness depends partly on how we spend our time.  Since much of our time is occupied by obligations such as work and childcare, people try to make the best of their leisure time that they have more control over.

Researchers from the Netherlands set out to measure the effect that vacations have on overall happiness and how long it lasts. They studied happiness levels among 1,530 Dutch adults, 974 of whom took a vacation during the 32-week study period.

The study, published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, showed that the largest boost in happiness comes from the simple act of planning a vacation. In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks.

After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people. There was no post-trip happiness benefit for travelers who said the vacation was “neutral” or “stressful.”  Surprisingly, even those travelers who described the trip as “relaxing” showed no additional jump in happiness after the trip. “They were no happier than people who had not been on holiday,” said the lead author, Jeroen Nawijn, tourism research lecturer at Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.

The only vacationers who experienced an increase in happiness after the trip were those who reported feeling “very relaxed” on their vacation. Among those people, the vacation happiness effect lasted for just two weeks after the trip before returning to baseline levels.

So the study concludes that vacation does boost overall happiness especially before the trip when people are looking forward to it, but the positive effect diminishes immediately or shortly after it is over.

Destinations and the people whom you travel with most likely have an impact on the level of happiness and anticipation.  Even though going to exotic new places are always exciting, some people prefer to go back to the same destination over and over again because of the good time and fond memories attached to those places.  Imagine the over-the-moon honeymooners who are on their way to Hawaii!

Although we only see images of vacationers with big smiles on their faces, disagreement with a companion, airport hassle, culture shock, pollution, crowding, exhausted and cranky little children or falling ill can all potentially affect the mood negatively.  I still love to go to China.  But the expectation of a very long flight and the 13-hour jetlag curb my enthusiasm somewhat.

For the purpose of prolonging happiness, it seems clever to plan shorter trips more frequently.  Don’t fret over the difficulty of reaching an agreement on where to go or the minute details of the travel plan.  Instead treat it as part of the whole fun and exploring experience.  Plan at least eight weeks ahead will allow you to get the most out of the get-away.  Give yourself an extra day off before returning to work should help as well.  Trips can also be savored through photographs and memories years afterwards.  Facebook and other social media vehicles offer a fantastic platform for people to exchange vacation information and share the happy moments of their lives.

My family took a 6-day, 5-night vacation to Cancun at the end of May.  We left on Sunday and came back on Friday.  It turned out to be a great arrangement.  The vacation officially started on Friday when I went with my girls for beauty treatments.  I also had Saturday and Sunday to transition back to my normal life after coming home.  When I got to the office on Monday and had my one-on-one with my boss in the morning, I found out quickly that I had to deliver some heavy-lifting insight by the end of the week.  I smiled at the challenge.  In my mind, I was already planning my next get-away.