5 Psychological Studies to Reboot Your Summer

How is it already August? June and July flew by in about ten minutes, leaving us to wonder where all our grand plans for the Best Summer Ever went. This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen and Quick and Dirty Tips intern Emily Jones team up to offer five ways to help you get the most out of the final four weeks of summer (or rest assured that it’s okay if you don’t).

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
Episode #121

The takeaway: rather than taking one long vacation, try multiple shorter vacations, relish the anticipation of each, and, if we’ve learned anything, pack a camera.

Tip #4: Save the best for last.  Stay with me on this one—I promise it will link back to summer awesomeness. A study led by none other than Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and author of the bestselling Thinking Fast and Slow had participants experience two slightly painful events. In the short trial, they held one hand in water at 14 degrees Celsius for one minute (57 degrees Fahrenheit for us oddball Americans). Next, in the long trial, they immersed the other hand in water of the same temperature for the same amount of time, but then kept it there for another 30 seconds as the temperature was raised one degree to 15 degrees Celsius (59 F). Once they were no longer numb, participants were asked which trial they wanted to repeat. A significant majority elected to repeat the long trial.  

So was the study populated by masochists? Or was something else going on? Turns out the study demonstrated what is now known as the peak-end rule. In other words, experiences are judged by their most intense point and their end point, rather than as an overall experience. So even though the longer trial was objectively more painful, because it ended on a slightly more comfortable note, it was subjectively less painful.

OK, as promised, here’s how this relates to summer: subsequent research has shown that the rule applies to positive experiences, too. So, even if your summer has been bland so far, aim for a strong, positive ending and you’ll remember the summer as more marvelous than “meh.”

5. However your summer shakes out, be grateful for the good. In yet another Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study, participants who kept a weekly gratitude journal felt more positive about their lives and (bonus!) exercised more regularly than those who journaled about negative or neutral thoughts.

Expressing gratitude, while trendy, seems to have a lot going for it: it’s been associated with greater alertness, enthusiasm, determination, and energy, not to mention making more progress toward a personal goal.

The take home?  At summer’s end, don’t sweat it. Even if the concert tickets are a scam, your camera breaks, and your job won’t allow you a vacation, be grateful for the little things. Popsicle, anyone? Come September, you’ll be as reluctant to end your summer as a kid who’s told it’s time to get out of the pool.

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Emily Jones is the Quick and Dirty Tips intern for Summer 2016. She is a rising junior at Cornell University, where she edits the dining section of The Cornell Daily Sun.


About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
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