Ahead, Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind, and Kate Cummins, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist, explain why this may be. Plus, they offer tips on bringing this friendly energy into your everyday life for a happiness boost—no traveling required.
Why you may be friendlier while on vacation
Life is busy and often social connections can be put on the back burner. However, when we’re on vacation, Dr. Cummins says our minds are free of life’s demands, thus making us more open and expansive, leading to increased friendliness. There's also a shift in our perspective while on holiday that makes us more open to connecting. "People have cognitively conditioned themselves into believing they have more flexibility and freedom on vacation versus being at home because of the idea of being stress-free," Dr. Cummins says. This isn't necessarily true she says, but rather a perception of our reality. "But the cognitive flexibility allows for people to shift perspective into believing they're in a more fluid state so [they] are more flexible in the approach to contact with others," Dr. Cummins adds.
Furthermore, when traveling somewhere new, Dr. Cummins says you often need to rely on others for guidance on adapting to the local culture and norms, which can make you more open to interacting with strangers. Dr. Hafeez adds that another potential reason you may be more likely to chat with someone you don't know on vacation is that holidays are often associated with less screen time, which can limit opportunities for interaction with others. "By avoiding constant phone use, individuals can fully engage with their surroundings, learn more about their destination, and have meaningful interactions with locals and other travelers," she says.
So, does friendliness contribute to feeling happier during vacations?
All that said, it begs the question: Can increased openness to social interaction contribute to overall vacation happiness, or is the happiness boost from being on vacation what leads to feeling friendlier? The short answer: It's both.
Dr. Hafeez says positive social interactions during vacations can create a sense of belonging and connectedness, which contribute to happiness and well-being. "This sense of community is essential for people who are traveling alone or who are in unfamiliar surroundings," she says. So vacationers who are more open to social interaction, she adds, are more likely to have positive vacation experiences and feel happy during their travels.
From a different perspective, increased happiness when on vacation inspires us to connect more with others. Dr. Cummins notes that people generally feel happier on vacation because all the excitement of visiting a new location and trying new things provides a dopamine high, and that happiness can extend outward toward people who are part of the vacation setting. "An openness to interaction and friendly nature are results of an already positive emotion existing internally and creating an external connection based on the internal feelings and thoughts," she explains.
In other words, feeling happier while on vacation leads to an increased openness for connection, which in turn, also contributes to vacation happiness and satisfaction. It goes both ways.
How to bring vacation friendliness to your everyday life
The good news is that you don't have to wait until your next getaway to chat with strangers for a boost of happiness. "Research has shown that social interaction and positive relationships positively affect well-being and happiness in general," Dr. Hafeez says. "So being friendlier and more open to talking to strangers may still positively impact happiness outside vacation settings." Here are some ways to bring that friendly energy to your everyday life.
For starters, Dr. Hafeez says you must be open and intentional about having more social interactions, meaning take an interest in the people you come across and make an effort to engage in small talk. "Everyone has their own story, and taking the time to listen to people can give you new ways to look at life, new places to visit, or new restaurants in your city to try,” Dr. Hafeez says. “At the very least, it can provide a thought-provoking conversation that develops a stronger brain."
Taking this further, Dr. Cummins notes it's also important to intentionally create positive external energy by making people feel warm and comfortable around you. And Dr. Cummins and Dr. Hafeez both agree that smiling is also part of exuding friendly energy and making yourself more approachable. "A smile is a universal signal of connection and kindness with others," Dr. Cummins says. "When you are smiling, you create automatic behavioral cues with others that allow for friendly interaction immediately."
And lastly, try to limit your screen time. "Just like on vacation, taking breaks from technology can help you be more present and open to social interactions," Dr. Hafeez says. In other words, put down your phone when opportunities for connection present themselves.
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