Meditation and vacations appear to have overlapping effects, according to new research in The Journal of Positive Psychology. The study found that both meditation exercises and vacationing were associated with higher levels of wellbeing and increased mindfulness.

“This research was an extension of a larger research study my colleagues and I conducted. In conducting that research, which required daily participation for 8-weeks, a number of participants indicated that they would be away for some portion of the study period,”  said study author Christopher May, an assistant professor at the University College Groningen.

“We then systematically tracked when participants were on vacation away from their normal work or study obligations. This allowed us to examine the relative impact of vacation and meditation on variables such as mindfulness, positive emotion, and negative emotion. Interestingly, very little work had been done before looking at this relationship.”

The researchers examined data provided by 40 university students, who used a guided audio file to meditate for 15 minutes per day for two non-consecutive 2-week phases of the study. During the entire 8-week study, the participants completed a daily survey in the evening that assessed their well-being, emotions, and mindfulness.

On days the participants meditated, they reported lower levels of negative emotions such as irritation and higher levels of positive emotions such as gratefulness. They also scored higher on several facets of mindfulness. In particular, they were more likely to agree with statements such as “I paid attention to sounds such as clocks ticking, birds chirping, or cars passing” and “I watched my feelings without getting lost in them,” and were more likely to disagree with statements such as “It was hard for me to find the words to describe what I was thinking.”

The researchers found similar associations on days the participants were on vacation.

“We found that just 15-minutes of meditation was associated with similar effects as a day of vacation on aspects of mindfulness. Both meditators and vacationers reported heightened awareness of their environment and greater equanimity in experiencing their emotions,” May told PsyPost.

“Vacation was associated with even greater well-being and positive emotion, as well as even lower negative emotion, though meditation was also associated with beneficial effects on all of these variables. As we playfully note in our paper, ‘If you are pressed for time, sit on a meditation cushion; if you have more time, sit on a beach chair.’ Importantly, this advice only holds for brief meditation practice for beginning meditators; long-term meditation has been shown to have more dramatic, cumulative effects.”

The results are in line with a previous study, which found that mindfulness exercises were better than vacations for stress reduction and mood lifting. But, as with all research, the current study includes some caveats.

“This exploratory study should be followed-up with another study designed from the beginning to examine the relative impact of meditation and vacation. This might mean, for example, organizing study participation around vacation, so that people participate before, during, and/or after pre-planned vacations,” May explained.

“Alternatively, future research might examine participants both in daily life and in a researcher-created vacation environment. In either case, different types of ‘vacation’ should also be systematically explored. The effects of going away on a travel holiday may be very different than a ‘staycation’ or a period of time dedicated to pursuing projects and hobbies.”

The study, “The relative impact of 15-minutes of meditation compared to a day of vacation in daily life: An exploratory analysis“, was authored by Christopher J. May, Brian D. Ostafin, and Evelien Snippe.