A two-week vacation might be twice as long as a one-week vacation, but don’t expect to have twice the memories once you get back.
According to psychologist Daniel Kahneman, shorter vacations are typically just as good in hindsight as longer ones.
There’s a surprising amount of behavioral science that suggests a vacation can be improved with simple tweaks, such as planning it well in advance and talking about it once you’ve returned home.
Kahneman has made a career studying the way people’s experiences and memory relate to each other. In general, he’s found people’s psychology can be divided into an “experiencing self” and a “remembering self.” The experiencing self lives in the moment. The remembering self looks back on life through the rearview.
Happiness can be defined differently depending on which self you want to cater to most, Kahneman has found.
If you want to maximize the happiness of your experiencing self, plan a lengthy vacation. An extra week of sipping cocktails in the sun will almost certainly keep your stress levels lower than hunching over your keyboard at work.
But if you want to maximize the happiness of your remembering self — mind you, a self that lasts far longer than the fleeting experiencing self — a lengthy vacation makes far less sense.
Human brains tend to remember what’s novel, or new. According to Kahneman, if the story of your life doesn’t change much over time, you’ll be less likely to remember certain details. This is essentially why life flies by even if the days seem to last forever.
When you go on vacation for two weeks instead of one, you most likely aren’t “changing the story” enough to create new memories about the experience. Instead, it all eventually blends into one amorphous memory. You might be left with one or two standout moments.
In other words, if you absolutely need to take off for an extended amount of time, you have two options.
You can switch up the vacation dramatically halfway through, so you create new memories for your remembering self. Or you can spend half the time doing something less expensive, like staying at home and avoiding hotel and rental car fees — because in the long run, chances are the money isn’t buying much anyway.