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13th February
2012
written by JHiggins

Don’t worry, be happy … in Tucson?

Cityscape of Tucson downtown against mountain range, Arizona.

By Rob Lovitt, msnbc.com contributor

Is winter giving you a bad case of the blues? If so, perhaps you should go to your happy place, which might just be Tucson, Ariz.

In a new study, “The Old Pueblo” topped a list of the 10 happiest winter travel destinations in the U.S. It was joined, in descending order, by:
•St. Petersburg, Fla.
•Charleston, S.C.
•Napa-Sonoma, Calif.
•Seattle
•Los Angeles
•Palm Springs, Calif.
•Washington, D.C.
•Las Vegas
•Houston

The study was commissioned by Hilton HHonors, the company’s loyalty program. Hilton Worldwide, to the surprise of no one, has multiple properties in each destination.

“People are indoors a lot during the winter and Seasonal Affective Disorder [SAD] is prevalent,” said happiness expert Aymee Coget, CEO of the American Happiness Association, who teamed up with Hilton. Travel, she said, can be the antidote to “the moody blues.”

“Being outdoors helps people be happier,” she told msnbc.com. “Sunshine helps because of the Vitamin D.”

It’s hardly surprising then that the list is dominated by sunny southern destinations. Selected by Sperling’s Best Places, they were judged in several categories, including relaxation, nature, average winter temperatures and number of sunny days per year.

Those criteria were augmented by more urban amenities, including the number of restaurants and bars, cultural institutions and, for some reason, ice cream shops. We’re not sure of the science involved but do have to admit that a big bowl of Chunky Monkey certainly makes us happy.

The latter set of criteria may also explain how Seattle and Washington, D.C. — not exactly warm and sunny winter destinations the last time we checked — made the list.

“It’s not rocket science,” Coget told msnbc.com. “When you’re having new experiences, you’re happier.”

Good vibes aside, it turns out that there actually is scientific, albeit equally non-aeronautic, evidence that travel, particularly leisure travel, makes you happier. However, according to a 2010 study published in Applied Research in Quality of Life, the biggest boost isn’t generated by the travel per se but rather the anticipation of it.

Do you prefer short getaways or longer vacations?

“People get excited [when planning vacations],” said Coget. “They’re excited to see this or that person or sit by the pool. It’s a projection of happiness.”

For that reason, both Coget and the scientists in the 2010 study suggest that taking more short getaways may provide a bigger boost than a single, longer vacation will. Presumably, multiple long weekends entail serial planning efforts, which elevates happiness on a recurring basis.

Clearly, more research is warranted but in the meantime, here in the Overhead Bin, we believe quick getaways and week-long trips both have their benefits. After all, why settle for being merely happy when you can enjoy double happiness?

Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.

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