Did you take a vacation recently? If so you’re doing better than most Americans.
I listened to a depressing story on NPR’s The World yesterday about the worsening vacation deficit in America. My idiotic countrymen and women are actually taking fewer vacations now than at any time in the past. This is despite the fact that unemployment has dropped drastically during Obama’s tenure. The trend is ugly because my fellow countrymen were not taking a lot during the recession either. It keeps getting worse.
Not even a simple majority of Americans surveyed by Allianz took a vacation at all in the past 12 months, much less took a real vacation of two weeks or more that the rest of the civilized world considers standard. What was especially galling about that radio show I mentioned was that caller after caller gave the same annoying rationalizations we hear all the time to justify this behavior:
“I have too much to do at work.”
“Nobody else can do my job so I can’t leave.”
“I can’t afford to go on vacation.”
“I haven’t been at this job long and need to prove myself.”
“I only work part-time so I don’t get paid vacation.”
That last one kills me. You work part-time but you can’t take time off? Go camping. Rent a state park cabin with three friends. Go stay with relatives for a few days. Rent out your place through AirBnB and go stay in someone else’s apartment with the proceeds. Sounds like you need a change of scenery to stimulate a dose of creative thinking!
Where the great ideas come from
There’s been a surge in the number of us working as freelancers now and we’re getting close to full employment in the USA. Combine this with much more enlightened “life balance” policies from many of the biggest employers and it should be getting far easier to take time off. But when people have a job, they’re worried about losing it or looking bad. When they lose their job and get a fat severance, they still don’t take a proper vacation, even though that would be the ideal time to do it right. As this 2009 article in Outside pointed out, “A seasoned traveler learns quickly that the limiting factor in adventuring is not money but time. You may not have another six-month or yearlong hiatus until you’re hip-breaking age.”
So it obviously goes beyond what’s happening in the real world and instead illustrates that most of the resistance is…in your head. Your employer would be fine with you taking time off to recharge and probably expects it. You’re the one thinking you shouldn’t.
Are you an assembly line robot, or a creator?
Here’s the thing: we need real vacations. There’s a whole mountain of studies showing that creativity, innovation, and problem solving are far more likely to happen when someone is refreshed and well-rested. There’s also a load of brain research showing that rebooting your brain by breaking out of a routine and seeing new things does wonders for your cognitive ability. How many of those people downing energy drinks and doing manic workouts they track obsessively could be in better health and perform better on the job just by dialing back the piled-up stress?
If you’re the logical type that needs to be convinced by science, there are strong research-backed assertions on a few things:
- Buying experiences makes us happier than buying things, especially in the long term.
- Travel strengthens relationships. Couples who go on vacation together regularly are more likely to respond positively to questions about their relationship.
- A study from Purdue University found that when families vacation together, they had stronger relationships and reported more closeness.
- When we make unfamiliar, non-routine choices, it releases dopamine in our brain.
- A study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that employees who never took a break from their e-mail suffered worse sleep, higher rates of health problems, and ironically, more absences from work.
- Decades of studies have shown that moments of insight or creativity usually come when there’s ample time and space for daydreaming—not while sitting in an office cubicle.
- There’s a clear link between frequent vacations and better health, especially for men at risk of heart disease.
A doctor’s wellness prescription
I know I’m shouting in the wind against idiotic cultural norms that (so far) the younger generation hasn’t managed to turn around on their own. For a lot of historic reasons that in some cases date back a couple hundred years, this “land of the free” is home of the perpetually overworked. It’s a stupid badge of honor to work late hours, be sleep-deprived, bite off more than you can chew, and skip your earned time off. Even if you’re not really getting jack squat accomplished.
Well screw that. If you think really living your life is just working all the time doing repetitive tasks so you can buy a nicer car to sit in traffic in getting to that job, there’s probably no hope for you until you snap.
When you do snap, come here for help in planning your year-long trip around the world or moving to a more sane country. When you travel abroad, you’ll find most people view a life of slaving away 52 weeks a year to be the sign of a person who is not really living.
Take a vacation already! You’ll be a lot better off if you do.