Ditch your deck chair
If your typical recipe for R&R calls for nothing more than a margarita and a hammock, you may be selling yourself short. In a 2007 study, vacationers texted daily ratings of their feelings to researchers at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. Travelers with more active schedules who packed their days with, say, tango lessons or parasailing outings claimed higher contentment levels than those who lazed for hours on end. "So if you face a choice between spending money on a couple of really memorable excursions during a short weekend getaway or splurging on a longer holiday as a beach bum," says Simon Kemp, the professor of psychology who ran the study, "I say, opt for the activities."
In reviewing research for her book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, found that people who make time to jot down specific details of fun events tend to have sunnier long-term memories of their experiences. Postcards provide just enough space to recount the good stuff, but not enough to let you dwell on the bad, notes Lyubomirsky. Uncertain about what to include? "A simple 'who, what, when, where, why' is perfect," Lyubomirsky says. And make it crisp and evocative. For example: "I'm grateful the rain held off till I got back to my hotel room. I slept so well on the cozy four-poster bed piled with quilts."
It's not just flu germs that are infectious. "A positive outlook spreads from person to person to person to person, out to three degrees of separation," says Nicholas Christakis, a professor of medicine and sociology at Harvard University and coauthor of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. So skip the solitary sightseeing and strike up a conversation with a friendly local, Lyubomirsky suggests. "People who reach out to strangers consistently report significantly higher levels of happiness," she says. Even seemingly mundane exchanges—chitchatting with a shop owner, asking a waiter for nightlife recommendations, or swapping stories with your airplane seatmate—can contribute to better moods.
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