It’s officially the most wonderful time of the year and across the nation, people are stringing holiday lights through tree branches and putting elaborate displays in front of their homes.
What are the benefits of those bright holiday lights? Psychology experts say holiday decorations can bring on feelings of joy — for some.
"The fact that they can elevate your mood is rather intriguing," said Dr. Krystine Batcho, a professor of psychology at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York.
But multiple psychologists agreed: It's not the lights that can make a person happy. The lights are just reminders, and the memories they bring up can be happy or sad.Too soon? Decorating for the holidays earlier makes you happier, science says Do holiday lights spark happiness?
Yes, holiday lights are among the most obvious and joyful reminders that Christmas is around the corner. The change in routine around Christmas, particularly from work, is valuable, Batcho said.
“Decorations are a symbol of a marker in time,” she said. “Holiday decorations are a way of almost pushing the pause button in a very busy lifestyle. Who isn’t busy these days?”
On a deeper level, Christmas lights and decorations help people recall memories. Batcho said over multiple studies, she’s asked for early childhood memories and has frequently been told stories that revolve around holidays and, specifically, decorating around the holidays.
“In our childhood, or in our younger days, those decorations were followed by good things, such as the coming together of family, good food, exchanging presents – all kinds of great, happy things,” Batcho said. “By classical conditioning, then, those decorations take on those properties of elevating our mood.”These are the holiday movies millennials love the most and where you can stream them Do you have holiday blues?
Holiday memories, however, can work both ways.
If someone has experienced traumatic events around the holidays – a rough childhood, a death in the family, even a particularly bad breakup – holiday lights can be harbingers of "holiday blues."
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has tips for avoiding the holiday blues, or “temporary feelings of anxiety or depression during the holidays that can be associated with extra stress, unrealistic expectations or even memories that accompany the season.”
Those who are already struggling with depression are even more susceptible to holiday blues, said psychologist Dr. Leslie Connor, who works in Wilmington, Delaware.
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For those who associate the holidays with bad childhood memories, there are ways to get that holiday cheer back as adults.
“They’re more in charge of their holiday experience now," Psychologist Dr. Elaine Rodino said.
Rodino, who is based in State College, Pennsylvania, said people can overextend themselves around the holidays, which can lead to feelings of unease around the end of the year.
“There is an art to approaching the holidays," Connor said.
“For example, maybe you don’t want to do the whole thing: Baking cookies, Christmas caroling, hosting parties, and all of that. But maybe you enjoy the music. Maybe your focus, then is, ‘I’m going to look for things that speak to me. That brings me joy.'”
Awareness of the potential negative psychological impact of the holidays is also important, Rodino said.
Batcho said reaching out to others is another way to avoid the holiday blues. Talking to a professional for counseling, or just to friends and family, can help around this time of year.
“Even if someone doesn’t have financial resources or expertise or time to donate to a cause or to give to others, there are so many ways we can reach out to others that cost nothing at all. One example of that is simply being kind.