by Matt Alderton | February 14, 2019
In the tradition of classic Sunday comic strips like "Cathy," Americans across the country greet every new Monday with a collective, "Ack!" If you've ever wondered why, do as author Cassie Mogilner Holmes does: Blame it on the weekend. 

Holmes, who is an associate professor of marketing and behavioral decision-making at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, studies happiness for a living. To find out why Americans are so unhappy with Mondays, she and two colleagues studied more than 400 working Americans over the course of a regular weekend in spring 2017. On Friday, they instructed half of the study participants to "treat the weekend like a vacation." The other half -- the control group -- were asked to treat the weekend like any other.

"How they interpreted the instructions was entirely up to them. Everyone was left to do whatever they wanted during those next two days," Holmes reports in a recent article for the Harvard Business Review. "When participants were back at work on Monday, we followed up with a survey measuring their current happiness."

The results: Those who'd treated the weekend like a vacation were happier than those who hadn't.

"Yes, the 'vacationers' behaved somewhat differently: doing less housework and work for their jobs, staying in bed a little longer with their partner and eating a bit more. These differences in activities, however, weren't responsible for their increased happiness," Holmes explains. "Instead, treating the time like a vacation seems to have shifted people's mindset. Specifically, the vacationers were more mindful of and attentive to the present moment throughout their weekend's activities."

Holmes, for instance, gives the example of two participants who'd both spent Saturday morning making breakfast. One, from the control group, reported making her favorite meal and enjoying it. The other, from the vacationer group, also made a favorite meal. Instead of focusing on the food, however, she focused on the experience -- she woke her loved ones up with breakfast the way she typically does only when the family is on vacation, and spent the morning marinating in the moment.

"The difference between the women's experience is subtle, but crucial," Holmes says. "Even though their activities and behaviors were largely the same, it was the second woman's attention to the present moment -- her mindset -- that produced the subsequent effect on happiness during the rest of the weekend and the following Monday."

Which begs the question: How can you create a vacation "mindset" in the course of your own weekends?

"Carve out a piece of the weekend … to fully enjoy and be in the present, as you would on vacation," Holmes advises. "Turn on some upbeat music in the car while running errands, or make yourself a margarita for folding laundry … Try to notice and appreciate the time you do have."

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