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Yes. You need a holiday

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Day 8 of vacation is when peak holiday happiness happens according to a new study, but any length break will do. Alix Norman finds out why you need to get away this summer

Did you know that Day 8 of your vacation is when holiday happiness happens? A recent study published in The Journal of Happiness revealed that the ‘vacation bliss point’ takes place on or about the eighth day of your holiday – the point where you’re totally relaxed, in sync with your surroundings, and at one with your fellow travellers.

It feels slightly counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Surely you’re at your happiest on Day 1, with oodles of down-time ahead? But apparently that’s not the case. “People need some time to come down, to relax from a busy working period,” said the study leaders, adding that, towards the end of the leave, wellbeing takes a nasty nose-dive as the thought of returning to the office kicks in.

So what happens if you’re taking a shorter break? Do you not get the full holiday happiness if you can only manage a three- or four-day getaway?

Well, while the Happiness study only looked at those on a three-week vacation (a uniquely European luxury – more on this later!), any amount of research has proved that a break of any sort is beneficial. Yes, even if corona has corrupted your work week over the last year, a holiday is still a must!

One recent UK study from the country’s largest healthcare charity suggests the effects of skipping your tripping includes higher blood pressure, disturbed sleep, and vastly increased levels of stress! Holidays, they suggest, not only help us relax and distract from our troubles, but also boost our emotional health and make us mentally sharper on our return. At the same time, travel can help you stay active (after a year of lockdowns, who doesn’t need a little more movement?) and alleviate depression – research from Harvard University has proved that just six days off work can trigger the genetic changes which dampen stress, boost the immune system and lower levels of proteins linked to dementia and depression.

 

How long should your holiday be?

Taking a holiday, then, provides a huge pay-off all round. But while the ideal break may be in the region of two weeks, it’s not always possible.

European Union legislation mandates that all 27 member states must grant full-time employees a minimum of four working weeks of paid vacation. In Cyprus, this translates to 20 working days of leave for workers on a five-day week, and 24 for those on a six-day week over a period of one year’s employment. Which is quite a lot in contrast to, say, the States – the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. But not very much when compared to Austria or Portugal, where full-time workers enjoy a whopping 35 days off per year!

Nevertheless, 20 days is certainly long enough for a good jaunt or two. And that’s exactly what the science recommends: a couple of one-week trips and a few mini-breaks per year is the sweet spot, apparently, with at least one day off in every 62 to avoid the onset of anxiety, aggression and physical illness.

Again, that’s great if you can swing it. But how many of us, coming off a year of corona, can really afford the luxury of three or four holidays per year? And, even if we can, where would we go?

Red, amber, green – this traffic light system for travel has caused any number of headaches over the last 12 months. Currently, Cyprus is in the red zone for travel to any number of countries; visiting the relatives may well mean a two-week quarantine period on arrival – no fun at all! But by the time you see this in print, all that may have changed, and hopping on a plane may be as easy as popping down to Napa for the weekend!

 

Where should you go?

Speaking of which, do we really need to vacation abroad when we have the whole sun, sea, sand package right on our doorstep? According to the Association of Cyprus Travel Agents, bookings for Greece, Prague, Austria and Germany have been up this year. But the majority of us will still be spending our 2021 vacation time right here in sunny Cyprus…

We’re lucky. Millions around the world would quite happily sell dear old granny for the chance of an island break. But that doesn’t mean that those of us who live here should holiday at home; a trip abroad has definite benefits. According to mental health app Headspace, foreign travel has the advantage of bringing you into contact with new surroundings and situations – quite literally broadening the mind, giving you new purpose, and boosting your energy. Meanwhile, a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine proposes that a lack of travel can actually shorten your life expectancy: travelling less than once per year may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, they suggest!

 

Who should you go with?

The possibility that a home holiday might actually up your chance of a heart attack seems a little far-fetched. As long as you’re enjoying new experiences, says professor of neuroscience Peter Vuust, speaking to the BBC, you’re probably safe wherever you go…

Apparently vacation time is all about upping that dopamine, and the more complex an experience, the more likely we are to spike our feel-good chemicals. “If the experience is one-dimensional, you get tired of it very quickly,” says Vuust. “But if it’s varied and challenging, it will keep on being interesting.”

One way to vary your vacation is to visit a new place – even if it’s close to home. Another is to travel with a small group (restrictions permitting) and enjoy unique interactions. Unless it’s a family grouping, that is… Holidaying with loved ones can be a recipe for disaster: when the needs of the individual are subsumed by those of the group, the ‘vacation bliss point’ moves from Day 8 to Day 3 – and everything goes downhill thereafter!

So unless you’re an unusually chilled, laid-back household (in which case, go for it), bear in mind that holiday happiness for families can be pretty fleeting! Just remember that – wherever you go, whatever you do, and whomever you’re with – only one thing really matters this summer… that you take that break. Go on, book it, and don’t look back; three days or three weeks – You Need A Holiday!

 

 

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