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    The joy of planning: how to make the most of your time off

      |  Nov 01, 2023

    Holiday season is right around the corner! For some, the holidays are a time to travel to their hometown for celebrations with family and friends, while others get on a first class flight to a tropical destination as soon as the temperatures dip. However you’re taking time off, you’re likely looking forward to when you can finally unwind and enjoy the stress reducing benefits of time away from work.

    You don’t have to wait until your PTO kicks in to start feeling good from your vacation, though. According to a 2014 study by Cornell University, planning and anticipating a trip can bring just as many mental health benefits as taking the trip itself. And it doesn’t just stop at vacations: overall, people experienced more joy purchasing and planning for experiences than they did material objects. Why? Researchers have a few theories.

    The science behind the joy of planning

    Cornell’s 2014 study proposes that people think about future experiences in more abstract ways, which makes them more significant and gratifying than material objects. 

    For example, say you’re going on a ski trip. When you think about the upcoming experience, you might think of a cozy car ride up to the mountain, how fun it will be to play board games with your friends in a cabin, or how grateful you are that you can take time off work to hit the slopes. You might remember a ski trip you took with your family when you were a kid, or look forward to the warmth of a hot cup of cocoa or tea in the lodge after a day on the slopes. 

    These anticipatory thoughts, which can tap into our memories, emotions, and desire to connect with others, is why we might feel better about buying ski passes then buying a new winter coat.

    A series of eight studies also found that people tend to talk more about their experiences than their possessions, and find more happiness from doing so. In fact, taking away the ability to talk about an experience actually reduced the amount of joy it brought. This same idea didn’t apply to material objects. 

    In these studies, researchers found that purchasers aligned experiential purchases with their self-image more than they did material ones. Participants felt that positive experiences reflected who they are, which can make an experiential purchase feel more significant. 

    Make the most of your experiences

    This holiday season, you can use the findings from these studies to make your planned trips, vacations, or any sort of experience, more exciting and beneficial to your mental health — even before it begins.

    Revel in the planning stages

    Spend time preparing for your trip in a way that allows you to indulge in the joy of anticipation. Create a Pinterest board of places you want to see, food you want to try, or even outfits you might wear. Ask friends for local recommendations, read a guide book, or watch travel vlogs. You might also find enjoyment in preparing yourself physically with a treatment like a pedicure or facial

    Fully experience your trip

    Mindfulness is key to enjoying an experience to its full potential. You’ve heard it before, but putting your phone down — whether it’s during a meal or a long walk — can increase your appreciation of where you are, here and now. When you’re off your phone, why not take it a step further? Get the most out of your experience by being open minded and curious. Chat with the person next to you at the pool, try a new dish at dinner, or spend a day wandering with no set agenda. 

    Reflect on and share your experiences

    The joy of an experience doesn’t end when the plane touches the tarmac. Extend that vacation happiness by sending photos to your friends and family, writing about your trip in a diary or on a blog, or purchasing and giving souvenirs to your friends and family. 

    Enjoy all experiences, big or small

    If a true vacation isn’t in your plans this holiday season, you can still reap the benefits of planning for and enjoying a special experience. Look up local harvest festivals or Christmas markets, or plan a winter walk with friends in a new neighborhood. Even mapping out a simple afternoon (Where’s the best place to get hot chocolate? What vendors do we want to check out? Where can we grab dinner after?) can make short days and cold temperatures something to look forward to.