It’s that time of the year for family summer vacation’s. A group of scientists came up with the best formula, follow these easy steps and have the best vacation ever.
Plan as far ahead as you can to build anticipation.
As behavioral economist Dan Ariely points out, one week-long trip to Disney World is actually composed of three things: months of anticipation to see Mickey, the trip itself, and the pangs of nostalgia you experience for years to come. To maximize our enjoyment, cater to all three stages. While you might be booking your flight a couple of months out, start browsing hotels, experiences and rides farther in advance.
Limit yourself to a few options to minimize regret.
Do you take a cruise in the Caribbean? A hike through the Rockies? What about a food tour in New Orleans? And how do you guarantee selecting one won’t make you regret not choosing the others? Psychologists have shown that when the human brain encounters too many options, it shuts down. Psychologist Barry Schwartz calls it the “paradox of choice.” Some choice is better than none, he says, but it doesn’t hold that more is better than less. Before your trip, narrow down the final choice to just two options. You’ll feel better knowing you picked the best one.
Cap the vacation at a week — you won’t remember two.
Famed behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman argues we’re made up of two selves: our experiencing self and our remembering self. The experiencing self lives in the moment. The remembering self lives in the past. Our remembering self has a hard time telling apart a one-week vacation from a two-week one because, as Kahneman says, “there are no new memories added. You have not changed the story.” From the perspective of the remembering self, short and long vacations are effectively equal.
Give yourself time to mentally ease into vacation mode.
Al Gini, a Loyola University of Chicago business ethics professor and the author of “The Importance of Being Lazy,” says people need a few days to unwind before they settle into their trip. Gini advises people to take those few days before the trip actually starts by packing ahead of time and getting chores out of the way. The less you rush, the easier it’ll be to start the trip on the right foot.
Spend money on experiences, not stuff, to maximize happiness.
Vacations are already on the right track when it comes to maximizing happiness: Buying experiences over the Cool New Thing is probably going to make you happier. You can take the wisdom into the vacation itself. Minimize the budget you set for coffee mugs and hoodies so you can spend as much time as possible building those precious memories that your remembering self will love.
Explore in the beginning, savor at the end.
Brian Christian, computer scientist and co-author of “Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions,” says probability can help us decide when to try new things and when to do the familiar. It’s called the “explore/exploit” problem. One should generally be more exploratory at the start of a vacation … and more ‘exploitative’ at the end. Everything is new on Day 1, so embrace it. But by Day 7, you pretty much know what you like. Even if you make a great discovery, you won’t have time to come back. So savor your favorites.
When possible, do things worth remembering.
Another finding from Kahneman is the so-called “peak-end rule.” It claims people best remember the peak of certain events and the ends. If I gave you a list of names, for instance, you’d probably remember last names on the list and the most unique one. Vacations work the same way. If you can, schedule the ziplining or the big winery tour toward the middle and the giant bonfire at the end.
Once you’re home, talk about your trip to make your memories permanent.
If a rafting trip got you super fired up, tell all your friends about it over coffee once you get back. The research on happiness suggests people can preserve how they feel about an experience by talking about it. A 2015 study even found people reported greater happiness levels when they talked about their experiences rather than their material purchases. It’s a surefire way to keep the joys of vacation alive, even in the months after you’ve returned to your cubicle.