Number One: Be sure to take it.
These days too many people skip their vacation time. But a 20-year study of 12,000 men at high risk for coronary heart disease found failing to take a vacation raised the risk of heart attack by 32 percent. And for women, taking two vacations a year lessened the coronary heart disease risk by eight times, compared to women who took vacations only every six years or less.
Number Two: Enjoy it.
The new normal for vacations has people bringing their work along, as well as their tech tethers to the office -- tablet, laptop and smart phone, and conference calls. A bad sign: checking your email at the beach. Leave the office at the office. The more you let go and immerse yourself in something else -- swimming with the kids, romantic times with your spouse, hanging out with friends -- the more positive you'll feel. A University of Pittsburgh study found (no surprise) leisure time like this shifts emotions into the positive range from the negative, and bumps up feelings of satisfaction.
Number Three: Bring It Home
The sobering news about vacations comes from a European study that found the positive benefits of vacations fade quickly, often within days. That's because a typical vacation does little or nothing to alter how we behave, or our mental state, once we return.
Compare the usual, quick-fading vacation with one where you study a mental discipline like yoga, Tai Chi, or meditation, or master an exercise for physical relaxation. These give us a method for an inner vacation that we can continue once we are back, a way to regularly prime our better moods.
Then there are a new variety of learning vacations that encourage using our minds in a fresh way, getting us out of our mental ruts. I spoke with Perry Garfinkel, a longtime New York Times contributor, who is giving a travel writing seminar in August for folks on holiday over Labor Day Weekend (the last hurrah of summer vacations) at a resort in Costa Rica.
I find travel writing forces us to be in the moment, which automatically leaves our thoughts of somewhere, something or someone else behind. I recommend adopting the "travel writer's mindset," to have that eternally inquiring and inquisitive beginner's mind, and to draw on all the senses to bring them into the present moment of hyper-awareness.
Another way: My wife and I are giving a seminar mid-August in Rhinebeck, New York, on her book Mind Whispering, about ways to drop the habitual, self-defeating modes. We'll review the steps to habit change that can help you make that shift last.
That's a powerful mindset to bring back home, for use as needed -- a vacation extender.