The approaching summer is a good time to reconsider something that American workers are terrible at: taking vacation.

The U.S., unlike European countries, does not require employers to provide any paid time off. Even when we are given paid vacation days, Americans often don't use them.

In 2016, fifty-four percent of employees ended the year with unused vacation days. And three in five workers admit to doing some work while on vacation.

Despite cultural pressures to work more, scientific research overwhelmingly supports taking time off. The positive impacts of vacation are surprisingly wide-ranging, affecting several key areas of our lives.

1. Your overall health improves.

The number of health indicators that improve when you take regular annual vacations are rather astonishing. You are less stressed, less susceptible to depression, more physically active, and better rested. You decrease your risk of heart disease specifically and death from illness in general.

In contrast, multiple long-term studies have found that individuals who don't take any vacations for several years are at least 30 percent more likely to have heart attacks.

2. Your relationships are enriched.

The shared experience of taking vacations together, and all the communication, time, and new experiences they involve, has been shown to strengthen family bonds.

You and your spouse will also benefit. Studies have found a direct connection between vacation and marital satisfaction. The more vacation time, the greater the marital satisfaction.

And if that's not enough, the reduced stress and positive emotions brought about by travel can also lead directly to an increased sex drive.

3. Your job performance gets a recharge.

If your boss needs convincing to let you take a break, make sure he or she understands that recovery periods are essential for high performance. Taking fewer vacation days actually increases resentment toward co-workers and the number of mistakes made on the job.

Those who regularly take 10 or more days off a year execute better at work, as evidenced by the fact that they are 30 percent more likely to receive a raise or bonus than those who took fewer vacation days.

Another interesting finding from research: the longer the vacation, the greater the increase in productivity afterwards.

4. Your thinking gets revitalized.

Both leisure time and traveling have been linked to greater creativity. New experiences enhance the neuroplasticity of your brain, which can have long-term impacts on your ability to innovate at work and at home. Going to fresh places can also improve your sense of identity and self-awareness.

If you're traveling with your children, they'll benefit too. Kids who spend time in other countries over summer vacation achieve better test scores in math, reading, and general knowledge.

How to take advantage of these benefits

Of course, not all vacations are made equal. If you want to experience the above benefits, it's important to plan your vacations well, keep the logistics simple, give your workplace plenty of advance notice, and actually unplug from work.

To optimize your learning and the richness of the experience, you'll want to intentionally engage with the local culture and its residents.

The chance to be happier, healthier, smarter, and more productive--while taking time off from work and seeing the world? I hope we can all say, "Yes, please."

Published on: Jun 11, 2018