The United States: Detrimental Effects of a No Vacation Nation

Alexandra Boston

Econ, Period 6

HB

We live in a generation that rarely celebrates the present. It seems to me that here in America we are always looking forward to something else. We are in class, and we look forward to the sound of the bell. We are in a cubicle, and we look forward to getting off, or what have you.  And even when we finally get to go home, when the bell rings or the clock strikes five, we almost immediately start to look forward to another thing. We go home, visit with our families, eat dinner, watch television, and patiently look forward to the weekend. We live for the weekend. Sleeping in, doing what we want, having free time. We need the weekend to fight the exhaustion of the work week before Monday arrives and the process restarts. But are Saturday and Sunday enough to get us through? Are these two, meager days enough to leave us feeling happy and content with our lives? Or can we only be happy and content for short spurts of time, having filled our lives with assignments, textbooks, computers, and quotas instead of friends, family, hobbies, and relaxation?

The United States is an industrial giant; we remain one of the world’s greatest powers. Our productivity almost triples that of some European nations [1]. But even though we may be richer by GDP standards, are we richer in an emotional sense?

According to a report done by the Center for Economic Research, the European Union demands that its constituents have, at minimum, twenty paid vacation days per year in addition to thirteen paid holidays. Some European countries have taken this a step further, mandating thirty days per year with the paid holidays. Meanwhile, workers in the United States are not entitled to any paid vacation days. Some employers will offer about ten vacation days plus six holidays as a benefit, but again, it is a benefit, a privilege; it is not at all necessitated by law [2].This is part of what allegedly makes the United States so productive. But I do not think it is worth it.

People need vacations to de-stress and escape the frenzied realities of the real world, and with the United States granting so little time for vacation, I think it might be possible that Americans are living in constant unhappiness, stressed and overworked. In his Nicomachean Ethics, the philosopher Aristotle defines a happy man as “one who exercises his faculties in accordance with perfect excellence or virtue.” He goes on to define reason as the highest of our faculties, for “the time passes more pleasantly with those who possess, than with those who are seeking knowledge.” He claims that reason, when used “in its proper excellence, will be perfect happiness.” In other words, Aristotle argues that living a life of reason, that is, a life that “consists in speculation or contemplation,” will procure perfect and lasting happiness [3]. But the thing is, people in the United States never take time to contemplate. It is almost as if taking time out of our busy work/school schedule is all but some kind of sin to us. We never simply sit back and take time to think about ourselves. Do we ask ourselves important questions, and not just ask them, but really, truly think about the answers? Questions such as: what do we want? Who do we want to be? What do we want to accomplish? And what choices and or actions will lead us there?  As humans, we absolutely must take time to think, sit back, and just breathe, but the United States does not permit us to do this in the full capacity that we need.

There are a vast variety of studies that demonstrate the benefits of taking time off. Vacations not only make an individual more happy all around, but also healthier. These studies have also proven that vacation time improves the well-being of not just single persons, but entire societies. Terry Hartig, an environmental psychologist in none other than the vacation-loving country of Sweden, took on one such study. Hartig and his associates at the Uppsala University of Sweden sought to test their theories by studying monthly anti-depressant medications in Sweden between 1993 and 2005. What they discovered was that the more people took vacations, the more the amount of prescriptions dropped. And they dropped in huge numbers, exponentially even, according to their recently published study. By far the happiest time, that is, the biggest drop in prescriptions, occurred during the summer when most everyone in Sweden took their vacations, Swedish law demanding that citizens take at least five weeks of paid vacation per year [4].

You see, Europeans in countries such as Sweden are required by law to take time to do the things they enjoy; they get outside, enjoy the weather, spend time with their friends and family, etc. They relax and recover for an adequate period of time, and when they finally return to work, their souls having been reinvigorated, they are able to meet challenges and take on their work load much more happily and effectively [5]. And the best part is, everyone goes on vacation at the same time which leads to entire populations of renewed, happy, less-stressed individuals. Hartig describes the effects of Europe’s vacation policies as a sort of “contagion”; happiness “infects the entire population like a viral epidemic”: an event he terms “collective restoration.”

Collective restoration, brought about by vacation policies, makes societies happier, healthier, and more productive. It is proven that Europeans live longer, maintain better relationships, and spend a lot less on health care [6]. (Here is a big kicker: Gallup poll actually estimates that Americans spend twenty-three billion on depression related issues every year) [7]. I mean, this is truly an area where America is falling behind. In fact, the Center for Economic and Policy Research has said that “the United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation time and is one of only a few rich countries that does not require employers to offer at least some paid holidays” [8].

Sadly, the United States will not be enjoying the benefits of vacation policies anytime soon. The only way our entire economy can coordinate a specific vacation time is through national policy. Currently, one in four workers has no paid vacations at all, and this is unlikely to change. But furthermore, the ones that do have paid vacations barely use their days and or take their work with them [9]. There exists the main problem. It is not just the government that is at fault here; it is us too. Since America does not permit us all to take vacation at the same time, we become really afraid of falling behind our peers or coworkers. Either that or we are too focused on getting our payday. We cannot bear the thought of the emails flooding our inbox, losing that raise, projects piling up, or being out of touch with what is happening in the office. Oxford Economics estimates that because people barely use their vacation days or cut their trips short to return to work, there is exists a pileup of about five-hundred and seventy-seven unused vacation days every year which means a sixty-seven billion dollar loss in traveling expenses and a 1.2 million dollar loss of jobs [10]. We have to be willing to give up work too; the government will not make changes unless we push for them.

The truth of the matter basically comes to this: being so completely immersed in our work and school depreciates our lives. It is one thing to be hard-working, but where it starts to go bad is when it is applied in the extremes that American society seems to dictate. Aristotle illustrates this in his Politics. He says that “some persons are led to believe that getting wealth is the object…and the whole idea of their lives is that they ought either to increase their money without limit, or at any rate not to lose it.” But he clearly states that these people are mistaken. “The origin of this disposition in men is that they are intent upon living only, and not upon living well.” “The elements of true riches,” he says, are simply “things necessary to life, and useful for the community of the family or state,” nothing more. Because the “quantity of coin” is wealth “of the spurious kind”; it is false because it has no limit. It leaves us constantly wanting more, never satisfied. “But the art of wealth-getting that consists in household management,” which is simply what is necessary to us (food, water, shelter, and companionship), “has a limit” [11]. Therefore, to be content, we need to suppress greed and materialistic pleasures and instead focus on basic necessities and furthermore, ourselves. We need to be happy with what we have, and we need to learn to appreciate our lives by taking more time to do the things we enjoy.

So to conclude, I would say this: we, as a population, need to realize the importance of taking time off and fight for it within our national policies, and, on the road to getting such legislation passed, we need to fight for it in small ways ourselves. We need to realize, as Aristotle believes, that money is not everything and is certainly not the end all. So even if the emails are waiting for you on a Sunday, go outside and play catch with your son. If during one weeknight you may be choosing between a stress-relieving jog and your laptop, choose the jog. If you have not used all your vacation days, make a spur of the moment decision and hop on the first flight to the Bahamas. Enjoy yourself people, because you only get one life. Use it well, and make sure you can lie down at the end of the day being happy how you chose to live it.

[1] Brigid Schulte. “Latest Research: Why Everyone Should Take Vacation.” Washington Post. August 1, 2014. Accessed April 27, 2015.<http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2014/08/01/would-we-be-happier-if-we-all-vacationed-at-once-yes-research-says/&gt;

[2] Rebecca Ray, Milla Sanes, John Schmitt. “No Vacation Nation Revisited.” Center for Economic Research. May 1, 2013. Accessed April 26, 2015. <http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/no-vacation-update-2013-05.pdf&gt;

[3] Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics. Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

[4] Terry Hartig, R. Catalano, M. Ong, and S. L. Syme, “Vacation, Collective Restoration, and Mental Health in a Population.” Society and Mental Health: 221-36. August 7, 2013. Accessed April 27, 2015.<http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/documents/local/vacation-collective-restoration-and-mental-health-in-a-population/1167/&gt;

[5] Jeroen Nawijn et al. “Vacationers Happier, but Most Not Happier After a Holiday.”Applied Research in Quality of Life 1 (2010): 35–47. May 3, 2015. Accessed April 25, 2015.<http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc articles/PMC2837207/>

[6] Terry Hartig, R. Catalano, M. Ong, and S. L. Syme. “Vacation, Collective Restoration, and Mental Health in a Population.” Society and Mental Health: 221-36. August 7, 2013. Accessed April 27, 2015.<http://viewfinder.expedia.com/features/2013-vacation-deprivation-study _ga=1.132927757.263965898.1392934962>

[7] Dan Witters, Diana Liu, and Sangeeta Agrawal. “Depression Costs U.S. Workplaces $23 Billion in Absenteeism.” Gallup Poll. July 24, 2013. Accessed April 26, 2015.<http://www.gallup.com/poll/163619/depression-costs-workplaces-billion-absenteeism.aspx&gt;

[8] Alain Sherter. “When It Comes to Vacations, the U.S. Stinks.” CBSNews. May 24, 2013. Accessed April 28, 2015. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/when-it-comes-to-vacations-the-us-stinks/&gt;

[9] Brigid Schulte. “Latest Research: Why Everyone Should Take Vacation.” Washington Post. August 1, 2014. Accessed April 27, 2015.<http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2014/08/01/would-we-be-happier-if-we-all-vacationed-at-once-yes-research-says/&gt;

[10] “An Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S.” Oxford Economics. February 2014. Accessed April 25, 2015 <http://www.projecttimeoff.com/sites/projecttimeoff.com/files/Oxford_UnusedTimeOff_FullReport.pdf&gt;

[11] Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics. Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

Image:

“Family Vacation.” Stantech Tourism LLC. Accessed May 3, 2015.

 

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