Here’s why a shorter Christmas break might make you happier than a long one

James D. Morgan/ Getty Images

Christmas is almost upon us, which means it’s nearly time for a break.

My family tends to do a staycation over Christmas and I generally default to the standard two weeks off.

However, I recently learned that there is indeed science behind how to plan the perfect break, which has me rethinking all my plans (or lack thereof).

Here are five things you can do have shorter but more relaxing Christmas break.

1. Spend time looking forward to the holiday

The earlier you can start planning your holiday, the more enjoyment it will provide. It turns out that the highest levels of happiness we experience from holidays is the anticipation.

Psychology researcher Jeroen Nawijn from Erasmus University Rotterdam investigated the happiness levels of around 1,500 Dutch individuals, some of whom were going on a holiday. Compared to those who weren’t going on a holiday, happiness levels of those planning to go away was significantly higher.

So while you don’t have much time left to plan and anticipate your Christmas holidays for this year, why not start planning your 2019 holidays and milk them for all the happiness you can?

2. Build relaxation into your holiday

Christmas holidays tend not to be synonymous with relaxation. There is the packing and the dealing with a million other Christmas travelers who all seem to have picked the same destination as you. They also tend to involve time with the in-laws, which can be exhausting for all involved. And for those with young children, let’s face it, they don’t entertain themselves.

In the aforementioned research, Nawijin found that when comparing vacationers happiness levels with those who didn’t go on vacation, post-trip happiness trumped non-vacationers when the trip was a very relaxed holiday.

If you want to finish your Christmas holidays on a high, build in some relaxing activities rather than trying to have every day jam-packed.

3. Three to six days is all you need

Research into the ideal length of a holiday has generally found no relationship between holiday length and enjoyment of the trip. As such, Nawijn recommends that a three- to six-day holiday is all you really need.

So when thinking about your Christmas break, forget about using up all your annual leave in one go. Instead, think about planning four or five mini-holidays throughout the year if you want to maximise your happiness in addition to your enjoyment of each trip.

4. Staycations can provide as much enjoyment as vacations

Research lead by Jessica de Bloom from the University of Tampere investigated whether a weekend away can be as enjoyable as a free weekend at home. She found that happiness levels were similar for both types of weekends, suggesting that Stacaters might be on to something. Not only do they avoid the hassle of packing and travelling long (or short) distances by car or plane (which is never particularly fun), not to mention the expense of going away, but they get the same levels of happiness from hanging at home.

Being a very enthusiastic Stacationer at Christmas time, this research definitely confirmed what I had long suspected. It also reminded me that I don’t need to be jealous of my jet-setting friends over the Christmas period.

5. Make the last day your best day

According to Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, we need to apply the “peak-end rule” to our holidays. The peak-end rule is like a manufacturing flaw in our brain which leads to the end of an event being the part of it that sticks in our brain most strongly.

I can definitely relate to this one. My husband and I recently took our daughter to Tokyo Disneyland and my strongest memory from the trip comes from the end of the day where we had a 10-minute walk (well, run) to the train station in torrential rain. I barely even remember the joy of standing in line for one hour for the two-minute long Winnie the Pooh Honey Hunt ride because this memory was literally washed out by the rain.

So rather than leave the last part of your trip to chance, save the activities you are looking forward to most to your very last day and you’ll help to craft very favourable memories about your entire trip.

Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium, Australia’s leading innovation consultancy and the host of How I Work, a podcast about the habits and rituals of the world’s most successful innovators.