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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Take a Damn Vacation

Aug 01, 2022 06:00AM ● By Paul Chen
I’m a new Formula 1 fan, courtesy of my #1 son. Like so many professional sports, the season, which includes more than 20 races, lasts nine months, from mid-March to mid-November. But unlike every American professional sport, Formula 1—being born on the Continent—lets the teams take August off. Four weeks separate the Hungarian and Belgium Grand Prix.

Alas, it is no secret that Americans suck at vacation. It’s also no secret that we persist with this bad vacation behavior despite knowing that vacations offer a bounty of benefits. 

In an article on AllinaHealth.org, Kathryn Isham notes seven benefits of taking vacation: improved physical health, improved mental health, greater well-being, increased motivation, improved family relationships, decreased burnout and boosted happiness.

In addition, a University of Helsinki study found that “individuals who took three weeks or more vacation in a year had lower rates of death compared to those who took shorter vacations.” And Bryce Hruska, in a study out of Syracuse University, says, “We are actually seeing a reduction in the risk for cardiovascular disease the more vacationing a person does.” 

Just a few years ago, many stories appeared that were based on research that had been done in 2012. A sample of headlines include: “Here’s Exactly How Long Your Vacation Should Be, According to Science,” “Science Says This Is the Ideal Vacation Length,” and “8 Days Is the Perfect Vacation Length.”

Sadly, they all got it wrong. Most periodicals do a terrible job reporting research; the actual 2012 report drew no such conclusion. Writers focused on this finding in the de Bloom, Geurts and Kompier study wrote: “Health and well-being increased quickly during vacation, peaked on the eighth vacation day and had rapidly returned to baseline level within the first week of work resumption.” 

Determining an ideal vacation length wasn’t even a goal of the study! And the conclusion de Bloom et al drew were not the fabrications the articles reported—which goes well beyond mere bad reporting. Indeed, not one of the articles I read mentioned that the average vacation taken among those studied was 23 days—consecutive, not over the course of a year. 

But here’s the thing: a 2018 survey by OnePoll and Apple Vacations found that, on average, Americans take four days of vacation before they stop thinking about work. And a 2014 CBS News article stated, without attribution, that the average number of days a vacation lasts for Americans is… four days! 

In other words, many, if not most, Americans never forget work on vacation, much less ever reach peak health and well-being. And the news only gets worse. 

From the same OnePoll/Apple Vacations study: 

• 37 percent of Americans feel guilty about unfinished work at the office, the #1 reason for not taking vacation
• 43 percent find it difficult not to communicate with their office while on vacation
• 73 percent have had their boss contact them on vacation

Perhaps the findings above factor into the findings below, although the Glassdoor survey from which the findings come was conducted years earlier:

• 61 percent of vacationers work during their vacation
• On average, Americans use 50 percent of their available vacation time
• Only 25 percent take all their vacation time
• 15 percent take no vacation at all

I reflect upon this now as I look forward to a long weekend away. Sadly, as a small business owner without the wherewithal of a large staff, I will work a couple of hours. Indeed, since buying this magazine in 2017, I have had but one vacation lasting at least seven days, and I worked at least four hours each day. It’s been decades since I took my most relaxing vacation—two weeks at the beach. It was the only time I’ve spent two weeks away, and sure enough, I distinctly remember the lesson of that vacation: It took a week to completely unwind, and it was only in the days that followed that I fully relaxed. 

After concluding that “employee well-being improves during but not after vacation,” the de Bloom report did suggest that “instead of skipping vacations or taking only one long vacation in years, it seems much more reasonable to schedule several shorter vacations across a work year in order to maintain high levels of health and well-being.” 

To that I say, “Hear, hear!” and wish every one of you at least one full week of blissful summer rest. But really, we all should be F1 drivers. ❧

Publisher of Natural Awakenings Atlanta since 2017, Paul Chen’s professional background includes strategic planning, marketing management and qualitative research. He practices Mahayana Buddhism and kriya yoga. Contact him at [email protected]
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