A series of experiments found that simply following the prompt “treat this weekend like a vacation” led workers to a more enjoyable two days off and a happier return to work on Monday. The findings were published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Vacation time has been linked to a wealth of benefits, including improved health, happiness, and life satisfaction — and yet, as Colin West and his fellow researchers express, the United States is severely lacking when it comes to paid vacation days. “Although one of the wealthiest nations in the world, the United States is temporally impoverished,” the researchers share, noting that Americans tend to work more hours per week and on more weekends than employees in other countries.
While most Americans do get weekends off, research suggests that these regular two-day breaks do not provide the same mental health benefits as vacation time. West and colleagues propose that this could be due to the habitualness of weekends which prevents people from really appreciating the time off.
In a series of experiments, West and colleagues investigated whether being prompted to treat the weekend “like a vacation” would lead workers to enjoy the weekend more, be more attentive to the present moment, and experience greater happiness upon returning to work on Monday.
In an initial study, 441 full-time workers took part in a survey on the Friday and Monday surrounding a typical weekend. On Friday, the workers completed a baseline measure of happiness and were then split into two groups. One group was told to “Treat this weekend like a vacation”, and the second group was told to “Treat this weekend like a regular weekend.”
Upon returning to work on Monday, workers’ happiness levels were re-assessed. They also completed 7 survey items assessing the extent that they had focused on the present moment during their two days off.
In line with the researchers’ predictions, workers who had been told to treat the weekend like a vacation reported greater positive affect, less negative affect, and greater satisfaction when back at work on Monday, compared to those instructed to treat the weekend like they normally would. They also reported a greater focus on the present moment during their weekend — and this focus on the present partly explained their greater happiness on Monday.
A second study followed a similar design and additionally asked participants to fill out a report detailing how they spent their weekends. Researchers found that those treating the weekend like a vacation spent less time on unfavorable activities like housework, enjoyed their weekends more, and, again, paid more attention to the present moment.
Interestingly, differences in how subjects’ spent their time did not explain differences in reported happiness on Monday. However, attention to the present moment did.
As the researchers discuss, this link between a focus on the present and improved well-being falls in line with research suggesting the emotional benefits of mindfulness. The authors suggest that in-depth mindfulness training may not be necessary to achieve some of these positive effects saying, “the current experiments identify an easy way, which is readily accessible to anyone, for individuals to tap into these benefits. The simple six-word prompt to ‘treat the weekend like a vacation’ led people to engage more with the present moment over subsequent days without explicit instructions or training.”
The authors acknowledge that it is unclear whether the mindset of treating the weekend like a vacation would be effective if brought into play every weekend, emphasizing that “applying a vacation mindset to a regular weekend makes people treat it like a true break—nudging them out of their routine so that they are more mentally engaged and derive more enjoyment from their time off. If this intervention itself became a routine, we may not continue to observe the positive effects.”
West and colleagues additionally warn against using such an intervention in place of taking a real vacation. Rather, their findings suggest a potential way for people to “make more of the time off they already have.”
The study, “Happiness From Treating the Weekend Like a Vacation”, was authored by Colin West, Cassie Mogilner, and Sanford E. DeVoe.