Why You Should (Temporarily) Ignore Your Problems

UPDATED: November 28, 2018
PUBLISHED: November 30, 2018

We are told from a very early age that we shouldn’t ignore our problems. As a happiness researcher, though, I disagree. You absolutely should avoid the things that are bothering you—temporarily, at least.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, taking time away from your problems may actually help you reap one of the greatest competitive advantages that exists today. Let me give you an example from Hollywood.

In the ’90s classic What About Bob?, psychiatrist Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss) is desperate to get his annoyingly persistent patient Bob Wiley (Bill Murray) out of his hair. So he writes him a prescription not for medication, but for a “vacation from his problems.” Naturally, the plan backfires as Bob decides to take his vacation to the same locale as Dr. Marvin.

Comedy aside, that prescribed remedy has some fantastic scientific validity.

In recent years, I’ve partnered with the U.S. Travel Association on their initiative Project: Time Off, a robust examination of the business implications of taking time away from work. According to U.S. Travel, Americans are taking less vacation time than at any point in the past four decades.

One reason, according to the project’s managing director, Gary Oster, is that Americans think taking time off will negatively impact their manager’s perception of them. But research shows the opposite to be true. According to our new research, people who take all of their vacation time have a 6.5 percent higher chance of getting a promotion or raise than people who leave 11 or more days of paid time off unused.

Here’s one possible reason for this: Research proves that when the brain is positive, productivity improves by 31 percent and sales by 37 percent. Creativity triples, and revenues can triple as well! It’s true. The single greatest competitive advantage you can have in the modern economy is a positive and engaged brain.

A great vacation can be incredibly energizing for the brain. But simply taking time off—even if you’re traveling somewhere beautiful or luxurious—does not guarantee this. The key is to use your downtime to de-stress as much as possible. Some simple ways to do this:

1. Plan in advance and prepare your co-workers or team for your time away (so you aren’t fielding frantic emails the whole time).

2. Go outside your city—the farther the better. You really want to disconnect.

3. Meet someone knowledgeable about the destination who can help show you around.

4. Have the travel details set aside well in advance.

So, as you prepare for some downtime coming up around the holidays, or think about what you’ll do with those PTO days for 2019, don’t even think about feeling guilty for the time you’ll spend away from your work. It’s not a lack of commitment drawing you away. Scientifically, taking time off improves your productivity and performance, speeds up your career advancement and, if approached correctly, makes you happier.

Related: A Workaholic’s Guide to Relaxing on Vacation


This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

Shawn Achor is a Harvard-trained researcher and best-selling author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness. Get a daily dose of happy at Shawn's Facebook page.