Americans Are Too Disciplined -- Go Do Something Fun!

Last Updated Aug 26, 2009 8:57 AM EDT

Productivity-obsessed Americans believe taking vacation or other fun time away from work is wasteful, maybe even immoral, says Harvard Business School professor Anat Keinan.

It's not that we love work so much. Rather, we believe that if we keep our nose to the grindstone today it will pay off big time later.

The problem, says Keinan, is this: We overestimate the benefits we think we will accrue at some mythical time in the future. Researchers even have a term for this condition: hyperopia.

Keinan's research clearly demonstrates that in the long run we regret not having more fun along the way. Looking back, we wish we embarked on that Amazon rain forest trip rather than putting in overtime on the Smith account. Keinan outlines the antidote to this condition for Harvard magazine in The Poor Payoff of Pleasure Postponed.

"'Why,'" she asks, 'do we have to wait until we are 60 or 70 to realize what's really important to us?' The formula she suggests: recognize the tendency to prioritize short-term guilt over late-in-life regrets and make decisions that emphasize the long view."
Of course, sometimes the vacation is not the right long-term decision. Her framing method can help you decide that as well. Read the article for more details.

Moral of Our Story
In other words (Cue the Cliche Machine): Don't wait for tomorrow. Live for today. Smell the roses. And for goodness sake, take that exotic vacation.

You won't regret it.

Related Reading:
We wrote earlier in this space about the business strategy implications of Keinan's work, Convince Consumers to Indulge for Their Own Good.

HBS Working Knowledge interviews Keinan about her research in Indulgence vs. Regret: Investing in Future Memories.

(Cruise image by jimg944, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.