Vacation? What vacation?

2011

So you have some annual holidays. One, two, three, perhaps even four weeks of vacation. If you're like many Americans, what that means is that if you do decide to take a vacation, you're not really taking a break from work at all; you're just making a choice to go somewhere else to work for a short time.

A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that barely more than half of all American workers (57 per cent) actually use up all their vacation time. And even then, it's a sure bet that a vast majority of that lucky 57 per cent remains electronically tethered to their work.

Most Americans no longer even dream of "getting away" from work. Habitual, robotic-like, Americans seem loathed to take vacation at all. But why?

There's a rip-tide sort of pull that seems to keep Americans tied to their desks. Many are worried about their jobs being outsourced or their being laid off while they're away. Others are caught up in a dizzying, fast-paced world of work where time is money, or where being away may be interpreted as not being committed. Many fear the deluge of work that awaits them upon their return.

But, there's something else
A recent study in the Journal of Happiness Studies (yes, it does exist!) says Americans believe success is equated to working hard (and, by implication, long). The study also says Americans "maximize their happiness by working." Hmmm.

Over the years, I've personally come across very few individuals who would agree that working longer and harder results in maximized happiness. But what I have found is that more and more people are living in fear of losing their jobs and so see vacations and time off as challenging or well-nigh impossible.

And so, as another Summer approaches here in the States, the dividing line between work and leisure is becoming more blurred than ever. "Fun only" is a term no longer existing in most people's vocabulary.

People are using their armoury of iPhones, iPads, Blackberries, Smartphones and a host of other devices to connect with their office or business colleagues while at home or away "on vacation". Tweeting and interacting on Facebook and other social networks keep folks connected to their "extended families" while at home or away "on vacation".

Who's kidding whom?
So is this obsession with staying in touch so prevalent because people actually believe that working while on vacation is maximizing their happiness?

Of course not.

What piques my curiosity is how partners, couples, and families – those who believe they enjoy deep connection and intimacy - deal with this "working on vacation" phenomenon.

Do they now – honestly - view such electronic interruptions, all that "happiness doing business" as not adversely affecting their relationships?

Rather than "maximizing happiness" through staying connected, 24/7, and working on vacation, my anecdotal evidence says folks are (1) inundated with more and more work they cannot handle in a "normal" vacation day, (2) fearful, guilty and anxious that if they "disconnect" they may find themselves out of a job, and (3) truly addicted to their social/work life on computer.

Sadly, there's one additional piece of anecdotal evidence which, to me, is ever more plausible. More and more folks are becoming estranged from their spouses, partners, children and families in favor of social networking and connecting outside their love relationship – their "lover" has become the Internet.

The upsetting fallout of living in a "vacation is work" world is sacrificing one's personal sense of independence and the abdication of precious healthy, rejuvenating, soulful and relaxing time.

And, for those who actually do take a vacation, how many need to "unwind" after they come back from a "working vacation" because they are just as stressed, overworked and overwhelmed as before they left?

That's not a spiritually, emotionally, physically or psychologically healthy place to be.

Work maximizes happiness?
More and more of us are experiencing stress-related diseases, illness, family and relationship dysfunction and really rough times holding it together at work. It appears the workplace is being populated by ever-growing numbers of disengaged, unproductive, underperforming and exhausted employees not to mention those experiencing serious states of depression, addiction, self-neglect and serious overt or silent anger.

So, does work maximize happiness?

Some questions for self-reflection

  • When was your last real vacation?
  • What does vacation mean for you?
  • Do you take vacations that really nourish you?
  • How do you prepare for vacation?
  • How do you transition from vacation to home or work?
  • How is the first week back after your return?
  • What did you discover about yourself on recent vacations?
  • Do you enjoy yourself away from the everyday routine? Honestly.
  • Were your iPhone and laptop traveling companions on your last vacation?
  • What was vacation like before you had an iPhone?
  • How much vacation time do you have and take each year?
  • Has your relationship suffered because of your "online" activities? Be honest. What would you spouse, partner or children say?
  • What were vacations like when you were growing up?
  • Can you visualize a world where you can take a vacation and truly leave work behind? Would you want to?

More and more at home, people have no idea how to "take it easy" or relax without working, or connecting online. Online addiction is rampant.

Real vacations are important
Taking time for one's self is a "must" if you're going to maintain a healthy mind, body and soul. It's impossible to run a car engine on all cylinders 24/7, 365. The human body, mind and psyche are no different - dependency on energy drinks notwithstanding.

Vacations, spent consciously, serve as preventative medicine, allowing time for de-stressing, decompressing, rejuvenating, replenishing and re-connecting with one's self. When we consciously allow real space for relaxation and novelty, we discover the unconscious level of tension and stress we've been carrying day-to-day.

The first few days of vacation usually begin the process of unwinding, followed by the recognition of a need for rest, relaxation and a deeper settling of our body, mind and spirit.

And a related question is what type of vacation do you take? For some people vacation is non-stop sight-seeing, visiting family, exercise boot camp, or staying "connected" - which is inevitably followed by that odd aftermath, "I need a vacation from my vacation."

"And so we take a holiday, a vacation, to gain release from this bondage for a space, to stand back from the rush of things and breathe again. But a holiday is a respite, not a cure. The more we need holidays, the more certain it is that the disease has conquered us and not we it.

More and more holidays just to get away from it all is a sure sign of a decaying civilization; it was one of the most obvious marks of the breakdown of the Roman empire. It is a symptom that we haven't learned how to live so as to re-create ourselves in our work instead of being sapped by it." [Evelyn Underhill]

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.