So why does travel make us happy? Researchers and psychologists who study the economics of happiness usually talk about something called “the Easterlin paradox” which states that “money can lead to happiness, but only up to a certain point – and then we adapt.”
A Cornell University psychology professor, Dr. Thomas Gilovich, asked various participants over the course of a 20-year study, to evaluate their happiness after making any major material as well as experiential purchases. Initially, the participants ranked their happiness with both kinds of purchases roughly the same. But, as time passed, it turned out that their satisfaction with material things decreased, while their satisfaction with experiences they had spent money on, increased. Hence the fact that so many people who spend their money on travel seem to be happier than those who spend it on other material things and never really leave their home.
Travel can also apparently lower the risk of depression. According to the World Health Organisation, depression is a common mental disorder and globally, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from it. Thankfully, things seem to be changing as the need to protect our mental health is influencing how we choose our holidays and how frequently we take vacations.
In South Africa, for example, a recent survey by Getaway Magazine, showed that 49% of the surveyed South Africans go on holiday once a year while 32% go twice a year or more. Only 19% of respondents go on a trip less than once a year. However, the survey also showed that 35% of surveyed South Africans are willing to perform job-related tasks during their holidays – which isn’t great for “switching off”.
On the other hand, according to the latest Expedia Vacation Deprivation Study, an annual survey on American traveller behavior and attitudes, 81% of American travellers say they regularly take vacations where a primary goal is “mental wellness”, and they see a vacation as a chance to “hit the reset button” on stress and anxiety (91%).
But, there is still a shocking 63% of Americans say they go six months or longer without a vacation, with more than 28% of respondents keeping a year or more between trips.
It is also believed that travel can actually rewire your brain. Many scientists no longer believe that the brain is only changeable during childhood, but instead now accept that neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change) is present throughout one’s life.
When we look forward to doing something fun and exciting, it triggers the release of dopamine which helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. In other words, simply having a vacation on the horizon can make us feel happier!