11/10/2016 13:33 BST | Updated 12/10/2017 06:12 BST

Could Our Holidays Be Making Us Unhappier?


Image source: Katarzyna Kos

Sun, sea, sand and 'sangria'. That was my life in 2006, well for some of the time, but more for the holiday makers I was looking after in Mallorca. Spending a season as a holiday rep was one of the most exciting, fun and exhausting jobs I have ever done. Yes we partied and got to wake up to the Spanish sunshine every day, but dealing with people when they're on holiday is a bit like releasing animals into the wild - a little bit crazy and out of control. We used to say that people forgot to pack their brains or left them at the airport when they landed in the Mediterranean sun. And I'm not talking about a group of 18-30's on a wild week in Magaluf, I was working in a modest little resort, popular with young British families on their annual getaway from the 9-5. They would land in Palma airport like kids in a sweet shop, full to the brim with excitement, and 12 months' worth of pent up stress, ready to be unleashed. They were ready to enter their fantasy world. I remember one lady demanding that her holiday be reimbursed because a guy had had a heart attack on her outbound flight which had 'traumatised' her for the rest of her holiday. This clearly shattered her illusion of the dream holiday she had been longing for where life is perfect and far removed from reality.

I guess I was on a little getaway of my own. I took a break from my job working with people who had drug and alcohol problems. As much as it was really interesting and rewarding, it got hard seeing people in such desperate situations, trapped in a destructive cycle of addiction. I thought, 'let's do something fun, get away from it all for a while'. But whilst working with holiday makers, it became clear to me that they were not a world apart from the 'clients' I had left behind in the UK. In their own way they were both looking for a 'release', a break from life, an escape. You see, whether it's drinking to forget our problems and anxieties, or jumping on a plane to escape the rat race of modern life, for me it's two sides of the same coin - The 'live for the weekend' culture. Postponing happiness until the right time, or until we have earned enough brownie points to have the permission to enjoy ourselves. The idea that fun and play is a luxury item kept in a box, only to be opened on special occasions.

It may sound flippant to compare the lives of people taking drugs to get through the day, to those having a jolly holiday in Spain, but having experienced working with both I know that for those who ended up in the drug clinic, it didn't happen overnight. I have seen many people working in professional jobs, nurses, teachers, doctors who have worked hard and kept going for too long, who have postponed their own happiness until the working week is done, until the next holiday, even until their retirement. Research shows that 9.9 million working days were lost due to stress, depression or anxiety in 2014/15 in the UK.

The 'live for the weekend' culture is costing us our health and happiness, we have forgotten that fun and play is a basic human need. It reminds me of the work of Bronnie Ware, who wrote about the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying where people at the end of the lives shared their regrets. Two of those regrets were - 'I wish I hadn't worked so hard' and 'I wish I had let myself be happier'. Why do we do this to ourselves? If only we could bring more fun, happiness and silliness into our daily lives, so that we don't postpone it until it's too late. That we make it a priority to bring a bit of the holiday vibe to life, that we dance with the dog in our kitchen, drink a cocktail on a Tuesday afternoon, bake cakes wearing a bikini, (these are clearly my 'fun' things) but whatever 'fun' means for you - do it now! Because your health, happiness and sanity depends on it.

We all need to play and have fun and we need to do it regularly, no matter how old we are. When we keep postponing it, it can lead to dark places, I know, I have seen it and I don't want that for anyone.