Pharrell Williams isn't the only one celebrating happiness these days. Independent travel packager Monograms and positive psychology researcher Shawn Achor recently teamed up to create the Road to Happiness Study, which quantifies the connection between happiness and travel. The study examined some of the most important elements of the happiest vacations, and we took a closer look, too. Here are nine ways to make any trip even better.

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Plan Ahead

When you plan ahead, you get a double benefit: better prices and more availability. A recent report monitored 4 million flights and found that the average lowest fares surfaced 54 days before travel. And, according to Monograms' Road to Happiness Study, 90 percent of the happiest vacationers planned more than a month in advance, leaving plenty of time to savor the delicious pre-vacation anticipation.

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Look Far

For vacation happiness, you've really got to commit to actually going on vacation, not going halfway on a staycation or nearcation (we just made that last one up). According to the Road to Happiness Study, 94 percent of respondents found greater happiness when traveling far from home. And while the occasional weekend getaway might boost morale in the short term, 85 percent of the happiest, most memorable vacations occurred when people dusted off their passports and explored destinations beyond the U.S.

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Beat Stress

Take a load off, people, this isn't The Amazing Race. Vacation happiness comes from taking it slow enough to really be present, not zooming ahead to the next sight, activity, or meal. In fact, a whopping 88 percent of travelers reported that their happiest vacations were mostly stress-free. And a happy vacation has lingering benefits as well: 93 percent of respondents said that their happiest vacations boosted their energy at work after their return.

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Befriend a Local

A place truly comes alive when you see it through the eyes of a local. Instead of relying on the same guidebooks or online reviews that every other visitor is reading, you get a personal connection and the inside scoop. In fact, the study suggests that this is actually a key to vacation happiness. Nearly 80 percent of travelers polled said that on their best trips, they had the support of a knowledgeable friend in the destination or benefitted from the expertise of a local guide.

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Vacation is the right place to splurge. It takes such a significant investment of time, money, and effort to get you to your destination that it's crazy to decide you're not going to take the special behind-the-scenes tour of Rome's Colosseum or book the heli-tour in Hawaii because you want to save some cash. This isn't an argument for springing for the private jet, but you don't want to regret passing up activities you may never have the chance to do again. In fact, of travelers surveyed, only 13 percent said the costs associated with a vacation hindered their overall happiness with the trip.

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Seek Meaning

The happiest trips are those that spark something in your soul, feed your curiosity, or fulfill a lifelong dream. So next time you start planning a vacation, take some time to really consider your choice. Too many people default to popular or convenient destinations, without taking the time to consider which trips—even if they would take a little more time, effort, or money—have the potential to be life-changing experiences.

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Seek Help When You Need It

For some, planning is as much a part of the trip as the journey. But for others, it's a serious hassle that gets in the way of vacation anticipation. If planning just isn't your jam, own it and find help. You've got plenty of options that will make your vacation far more enjoyable right from the outset, from turning over the reins to your family's uber-organizer to working with a travel agent or a company like Monograms, which crafts travel packages based on your interests.

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Manage Typical Stressors

According to the study, the top three barriers to happy travel are time-management issues, unfamiliarity with the destination, and transportation hassles. For a happier vacation, be realistic about your itinerary and don't overschedule yourself. Checking out a map before you go can help alleviate some of the stress of an unfamiliar destination, but so can taking a taxi rather than trying to navigate by public transportation until you've got your bearings.

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Go to Your Happy Place

If you want to find happiness on vacation, make sure you've chosen a destination that makes you happy. Find places full of the things you love, whether that's art or nature … or an endless supply of gelato. Need a little inspiration? Monograms lists packages to happy cities. Skift recently rounded up 20 of its favorite fan versions of Pharrell Williams' "Happy," filmed in locations around the world. And last year, we brought you a list of the world's happiest places.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Nine Secrets to a Happy Vacation.

Follow Christine Sarkis on Google+ or email her at

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