The typical overworked and overstressed American limps into most weekends. That 5 p.m. Friday finish line leads straight to the couch. The rest of the weekend is a blurry haze of obligations and errands.
Instead of going into Monday refreshed, we enter the new week as exhausted as we left its predecessor.
The cycle repeats, intermittently interrupted by vacation time. But we’re not particularly good about taking vacations. The Society for Human Resource Management found that while employees who take more vacation are happier and more productive, the average worker took only 17 days off in 2017.
Another recent survey found that the average U.S. employee takes only half of their allotted vacation time. Moreover, in today’s “24/7” always-on work culture, vacation often means merely working off-site.
When vacation is done right, it results in many benefits.
● Stress Reduction: The American Psychological Association found that vacations reduce stress by removing people from the activities and environments that they associate with stress and anxiety.
● Cardiovascular Health: A study found that men who are at risk for heart disease who skip vacations for five consecutive years were 30 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks than those who took at least a week off each year.
● Increased Productivity: Studies by Ernst & Young and Boston Consulting Group concluded that those who take more vacations tend to be significantly more productive at work.
● Sleep: Studies have shown that frequent vacations can improve sleep by interrupting the patterns—such as late nights at the office—that lead to poor sleeping habits.
Beyond the health and wellness benefits, vacation is simply fun. It’s an opportunity to step out of the everyday grind and have interesting new experiences (particularly of the “first moment” variety).
Treat Your Weekend as a Vacation
Rather than waiting all year for a two-week vacation to roll around, why not realize these benefits during the two-day vacation that’s waiting for you every weekend?
In our experience, there are two distinctly different types of weekends. The first type you stumble into with little thought. When you ask the family on Saturday morning what they want to do this weekend, the reply is often shrugged shoulders. Time is spent online looking for events and activities, and before you know it, everyone defaults into the same old routine.
The second variety is one you look forward to with excited anticipation. It’s fun, fulfilling, and adventurous. There’s structure because you’ve planned ahead, but also room for spontaneity. The days are interesting and often leave you tired but satisfied—just like on a vacation.
It’s not always possible, because of course, we all have obligations that get in the way, but approaching the weekend as if it was a vacation can help break up monotony and routine, and make life happier and more fulfilling.
A group of researchers recently put this hypothesis to a test. They conducted a study with 400 participants in which they asked one group to treat a weekend as a vacation and the other to treat it like a regular weekend.
The results were clear—those who treated the weekend as if it was a vacation were significantly happier when Monday arrived than those that didn’t.
The researchers found that while the two groups of people engaged in different activities, the bigger impact came from a shift in mindset among the “vacationers.” They were “more mindful of and attentive to the present moment throughout their weekend’s activities.”
Plan More Microadventures
One of the most important things to keep in mind if you’re looking to get more out of your weekend is to keep things simple. You don’t need to create grandiose, time-consuming, and expensive plans to get the benefits.
Author, speaker, and world traveler Alastair Humphreys is a big proponent of microadventures, which he describes as “something different, something exciting—but cheap, simple, short, and on your doorstep.”
Hike a new trail. Camp in the backyard. Bike instead of driving. A cookout on the beach. With a bit of forethought, these activities can be easily fit into a typical weekend and will pay happiness dividends all week long.
Jay Harrington is an author, lawyer-turned-entrepreneur, and runs a northern Michigan-inspired lifestyle brand called Life and Whim. He lives with his wife and three young girls in a small town and writes about living a purposeful, outdoor-oriented life.