The Psychology of Holiday Decorating

There are some who eagerly await the end of Thanksgiving so they can dive right into their boxes filled with red and green twinkling lights, holiday decorations of snowmen and nutcrackers, and cinnamon-flavored candles to make their homes into holiday havens. Bing Crosby croons from the radio, they don ugly holiday sweaters as soon as the calendar says “December”, and the holiday spirit seems to ooze out of their beautifully curated homes of lights and tinsel. Others tend to wait to decorate for the holidays until the last possible minute or attempt to completely avoid decorating, listening to holiday music, or addressing the season in a festive manner. Do these two types of holiday decorators differ in mood? Yes! Decorating for the holidays has a positive impact on your mood. If you are the type to shy away from holiday decorating, you can consider the benefits decorating has on your mood and mental well-being.

Studies show that seeing decorations can lift one’s mood and improve social connection. The holiday season is based on togetherness and can foster a sense of belonging in family and friend groups. Getting in the holiday spirit by decorating a Christmas tree, lighting a menorah, or simply going shopping for your loved ones can contribute to one’s sense of joy and contentment. Decorating for the holidays can actually make you happier! If you are the type of person to break out the lights as soon as the Thanksgiving plates are cleared, your brain will benefit. But, why does decorating for the holiday season contribute to one’s sense of happiness? It may be the bright lights, the good memories of holidays past, or the sense of child-like wonder at the spirit and cheer of the holiday season.

Although decorations can certainly raise one’s spirits, there are many reasons why people may be hesitant or avoid decorating for the holidays. Grief and loss can be powerful emotions exacerbated by the holiday season and décor. Commercials on television and radio ads typically feature large, loving close-knit families gathered around the dining room table eating a gorgeous meal or singing at a piano. These images of large families can be difficult for those who are spending the holidays alone or with a select few friends. One study showed that homeowners can directly communicate their level of sociability and openness to others by the exterior of their homes during the holiday season. Decorated homes indicate a willingness to connect and integrate into the neighborhood’s social activities. If you find the holidays to be a challenging time of year, try incorporating a new tradition into your holiday season. Perhaps volunteering on Christmas morning or creating a cookie baking competition with friends can help take you out of a holiday funk.

Even as the holiday season comes to a close and the twinkling lights are put back into their boxes, the mall chaos quiets, and the holiday movies stop airing, there are ways to keep the sense of cheer and merriment alive. Continue to spread peace and joy throughout your community. The holiday season is not so much about the gift-giving and the decorations as it is about the feelings of love, joy, and laughter we experience around this time. We can replicate these feelings all year round. Results from one study showed that the reciprocity norm is strong and especially during the holiday season. The reciprocity norm refers to the expectation that people will help those who help them. About 20% of people who received a Christmas card from a complete stranger were likely to give them something in return. We can continue to spread love and generosity throughout our communities by helping those in need and being kind to others.

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