An Idle Luxury?

“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance, a lack of harmony and proportion is more easily seen.”

~ Leonardo da Vinci

I love vacations! Discovering new cultures, sights, foods and people are often unforgettable sensory experiences. Time away is good for the body and soul, and I’m all for nourishing both.

Doctors have been researching the ill effects of too much work, and some claim that a lack of vacation can have real health consequences. In one report, the Washington, D.C. based Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) called the U.S. a “No-Vacation Nation.”

While much of this post focuses on U.S. readers, its essence still has global relatability.

Americans may be materially richer than almost anyone else, but we have the poorest health in the industrialized world, despite spending far more per capita on healthcare than any other country. At last count, the U.S. ranks somewhere close to 50th in longevity and we are twice as likely as Europeans to suffer from anxiety and depression. In large part, these deficits are caused by lack of time. Overwork means we spend less time with friends and family, and less time exercising and eating healthy.

You’ve heard this before, haven’t you?

Vacations matter, especially for health. Sarah Speck, a Cardiologist at Seattle’s Swedish Hospital uses graphic images to make people aware of the impact of stress, and especially workplace stress on heart health, concluding that such stress is “the new tobacco” and that vacations are an important way to reduce stress and burnout.

Yet vacations, clearly, are not about slacking. A CEPR study found that simply cutting our work time to European levels, would make us happier. Forbes magazine reported that the four happiest nations on earth – Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden – are all characterized by the comparatively short working week and attentiveness to work-life balance.

More evidence… Leaf Van Boven, Ph.D., a professor at Cornell University, reports that the kinds of experiences people have while on vacation contribute more than what material possessions contribute to their happiness. His advice: “Instead of buying that new dress, take a vacation.”

Here’s a point to which many of you can relate: Vacations enable powerful bonding opportunities. Time spent with family and friends on vacations strengthens relationships. I still remember traveling on two-week train trips, road trips and backpacking adventures when I was young. The details remain vibrant decades later.

So, while you’re pondering why, in 2009, 86% of Americans did not take at least a two-week vacation, consider these random, simple practices:

  • Request unpaid time off, if necessary. Let your employer know that having some time to live your life matters to you and that you are willing to make tradeoffs to gain more time.
  • Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once. Let your boss handle the stress for two weeks. Or longer.
  • Share vacation stories with coworkers to ensure that all of you can have adequate vacation time without feeling guilty or fearing repercussions from higher-ups.

If a goal of yours is to improve your quality of life, then it’s time to acknowledge that vacations really do matter.

2 thoughts on “An Idle Luxury?

  1. I had a friend who bragged once about the fact that he hadn’t taken a vacation in 7 years. Instead of being impressed, I was horrified.

    All work and no play makes Jack a ticking time bomb!

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