The Purpose of Vacations

Modern civilized life places a lot of pressures and demands on people young and old. Adapting to long periods of conformity and alertness as required in work and school causes everyone to tighten up in some respect. Crowded cities and competitive aspects of social relations also contribute. The 'set point' of the autonomic system is moved toward the sympathetic (or fight and flight) and away from the parasympathetic (pleasure and rest). Vacations are needed to both recover and reset.

The amount of time that is needed to recover is often underestimated. The set point will not be reset without a good rest and the undertaking of some parasympathetically-aligned practices. Rest in this context does not imply complete idleness but does require a situation in which one 'doesn't have to do anything.'

During the rise of cities and industry in the last few centuries, this was recognized, and vacations became a deliberate undertaking. Vacations have traditionally been many weeks long. That is because people have known that it takes that long before they have felt their bodies ''reset.' A nights sleep, even if judged good, simply does not reset the body in the same way. An old fashioned Sunday or Sabbath, where nothing much competitive could or should be done, did function as a 'mini' vacation. However researchers have described a 'three-day effect'--it takes three days off for the body to start to reset. Most people notice that after a three day weekend it seem much harder to 'get back into routine.'

As people lost touch with their bodies, the purpose of vacations was lost. Vacations started to become consumption of interesting experience. They became short, hurried, expensive, and competitive--in other words, useless for their original purpose. With cell phones, email, satellite television, etc.. it is less possible to 'get away' from sympathetic and ego stimulation.

All schools, including colleges, used to be in recess during summer. It used to be expected that commerce would slow and nearly stop during the summer. Courts recessed during the summer. In the last few decades that has begun to be seen as 'wasteful'. What is not understood is that human creativity will be much greater after a true vacation. Children especially need unstructured vacations from school.

Money may not buy happiness but it can buy recovery time (if one is wise enough to purchase it.) Economic disadvantage may be self-perpetuating in that social gracefulness can't take hold if one is struggling 'to get ahead.'