An experiment conducted by Harvard Business Review unmasks the biggest impediment to a satisfying weekend: perspective.
Two experiments (the second performed to ensure the results of the first) instructed one group of employees to leave work on Friday with the mindset that they were entering a “small vacation,” while the other group were told to view the weekend as they normally would. The first group was found to feel satisfied and generally more relaxed the following Monday.
The research was inspired by vacation statistics. We’ve come to romanticize the concept of “excessive work” and as a result, developed an antipathy toward downtime. America, being the only industrialized nation that does not make vacation time mandatory sees more than 50% of American workers not using their paid vacation time each year.
A reboot of the concept of vacationing needed to be enacted
The first experiment took place back in 2017. Out of a pool of 400 working Americans, 200 treated Saturday and Sunday like a vacation–the other 200 made no shift in mindset whatsoever.
The first group did less work around the house, spent significantly less time ruminating about their job, and made a concerted effort to both live more in the present and to devote time doing more of the things that bring them joy. To ensure the experiment yielded tangible results, both groups were given a budget that could not be exceeded. A steady emotional state was not dependent on any external factors, the results were strictly based on perspective.
The study was recreated last year with a whole new crop of workers – this time 500 of them. On this go-round, the happiness of the subjects was measured during the weekend itself not just the Monday proceeding it. The data was identical to the experiment of last year, except this time researchers could confirm what could have been reasonably suspected initially: the vacationers were superiorly happy over the span of the weekend as well.
Those that treated their weekend like a vacation didn’t engage in activities dramatically different than those that observed a regular weekend. It was all in the attitude. Two women pulled from each group demonstrate this plainly. The first, who was just enjoying a standard weekend, made her favorite breakfast while the other woke everyone in her family up and made them pancakes, stating:
“It’s something I like to do when we are on vacation. I found myself enjoying the morning more than usual, maybe it’s because I focused on staying in the moment.”
Another important aspect of the study involves avoiding making this shift in viewpoint a routine. Habitually disconnecting from the day-to-day grind of work and all of its stress can lead to a reduction in its “emotional” and “cognitive” effects.