The Scientific Approach to Better Three-Day Weekends

So — how was your weekend? 

Okay? Just alright? No big deal? Kinda meh? 

Three-day weekend regret sucks. And it is real

Part of the problem shares its root cause with a national epidemic: 42 percent of Americans won’t take a vacation this summer. Why not? Causes vary: Some workers are super-obsessed with their jobs. Some don’t want to deal with the overwhelm that awaits their return. And some think that if they’re not around to do their jobs, nobody will do it — and calamity will ensue while they’re spending their week off on the Cape. Other studies show that even if you can claw some time away from the office, you’ll remain “reachable” — still attached to the daily dramas by a digital leash

This makes our precious summer weekends all the more valuable — and all the more likely to fall victim to our own malaise, exhaustion, burnout, and ruts. If you’ve been using your time off to catch up on sleep (“I’m just gonna decompress this weekend”), there’s no reason to think that these potentially triple-A weekends (offering, hopefully, good weather and plentiful activities) will offer anything different than the ones that came before. 

What to do? Science can help. 

Turns out, there’s a guaranteed way to create a memorable weekend, and it’s easy: just do something new. It’s not enough to go to the same beach as last year — go to a different beach (ideally one in a country called Fiji, surruonded by flourishing coral), and your brain will have to process all the new stuff it encounters. Feeding your brain with new information is distracting in the best possible way. It’s common sense: vacations stick out in your memory because they’re full of stuff you haven’t seen before. Apply that logic to, say, this upcoming weekend, and it’s clear that (A) you can make it memorable, if you want; and (B) the way to do that is to mix stuff up. And for the record, it doesn’t need to be a beach in Fiji … just one that’s sensorially distinct from your last beach trip (say, a rocky river beach versus a sandy one at the ocean). 

There is, as with all things scientific, a downside: routine creates the illusion that time moves slowly; novelty does the opposite. So all those new sensations will make it feel like time is flying — obviously the last thing you want to do to your weekend. So you’ve got a choice: experience the world at its fullest — but then poof, it’s Monday. Or lay back on the couch and settle in. Time will feel like it’s moving more slowly. But Monday’s still going to come — and we vote for the Fiji beach weekend versus the House of Cards binge.

That second one is Tuesday-night viewing at best.