Happiness from Travel – The Anticipation or the Actual Trip?


Yesterday I read the strangest advice on simple steps anyone can take to make themselves happier in life, with the backing of science. Aside from the usual, rather obvious bits of wisdom like “exercise” and “get enough sleep”, one piece of advice was to plan a trip but not actually take it. I was floored. Why would anyone want to do that??

I could see the part about planning a trip increasing a person’s happiness – I just recently started rethinking my future career path and pondering a shift into the travel industry after booking a trip to Turkey and Jordan with my friend Molly, to quickly discover that we were having a blast just with the planning and preparations in the ten weeks leading up to our departure date. So there’s no doubt that the anticipation of something good sends warm, fuzzy messages of bliss to the brain. But why would anyone in their right mind then turn around and decide NOT to actually cash in on that “something good”? Would it do me any good to starve myself for a week in anticipation of a big juicy filet mignon, only to indulge in a couple carrots at the end of it all? Wouldn’t that teach my brain in the future that my anticipation will soon fizzle out in disappointment, thereby defeating the purpose? Would I really get that excited about a trip if I knew all along that I wouldn’t actually be getting on the plane at the end of it all?

To be fair, the website mentioned a study showing that “… the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks”, but that “after the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people.” So travel doesn’t make you eternally, permanently, irreversibly blissful. But I have a theory that the kinds of trips we take differ in terms of what we get out of them and how satisfied they leave us feeling afterwards (that post to come soon). In any case, I’m pretty sure the anticipation would be greater knowing you’re actually going to take that trip in the end, so if you’ll end up where you started, at least you had those weeks or even months of preparation to keep you happy and hopefully some memories and pictures to boot. Because when I look back on our trip to the Middle East, it’s both the memories of planning with a friend and carrying those plans through that I think fondly on.

My advice: Plan a trip (even if it’s months or a year down the road), then take it. Then start planning the next one.

Get on that camel, damnit!

Get on that camel, damnit!

Categories: Travel Tips

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