"Typically, when really positive things happen to people, they have a spike in their happiness, but within a few days, weeks or months they return to where they were before," Maddux said. "The research shows the same for bad events -- when bad things happen to people, they have a spike in unhappiness, but they gradually go back to where they were. How long it takes to go back to your set point depends on how positive or how negative the life event was."
One study, for example, showed that brides are happier after their wedding day, but most return to their pre-marriage level of happiness within two years, said Sonya Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at University of California, Riverside and author of The How of Happiness.
"People are really good at getting used to the good things in life. You get a raise, get a new car, start a new relationship," Lyubomirksy said. "At first it gives you a boost in happiness, but it's not as intense or as long lasting as you think it will be. It's one of the reasons people aren't very good at figuring out what will make them happy."
In what's perhaps good news for many Americans allotted only two weeks off per year, researchers found that the boost in happiness that came from short trips of less than five days was no different than that gained from longer trips. In fact, researchers recommended vacationers maximize their happiness by taking a few trips throughout the year, even if they are short, instead of one long one.
To get the most out of the vacation, Lyubomirsky recommends seeking out novelty and surprise, such as meeting new people, trying a new food or learning to scuba dive. (The good kind of travel surprises, of course.
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