The holidays seem to start earlier and earlier every year. Grocery store shelves are stocked with an assortment of pumpkins and fall decorations during the peak of summer. Luckily, for those who crave the holiday season and spend November googling when it’s socially acceptable to start decorating with Christmas lights, psychologists have found that people who decorate early for the holidays are statistically happier.
What the experts say
“It does create that neurological shift that can produce happiness. I think anything that takes us out of normal habituation, the normal day in, day out…signals our senses, and then our senses measure if it’s pleasing or not,” said psychologist Deborah Serani in an interview with TODAY Home.
Decorating for the holidays is a tradition that has been a large part of our culture spanning hundreds of years, which involves a multitude of different religions, customs and beliefs. Isabell Springer, who is an award- winning marriage and family therapist based in Los Angeles, enforces the fact that it’s less about the decorations and more about the emotions it incites.
“The traditional process of decorating and what decorating is for people, that can be about excitement, anticipation, love, joy, happiness, connection, closeness in families, friendships and loved ones, because it is about anticipating creating an emotional experience,” Springer said.
Springer gets to the core behind the idea of decorating, emphasizing that it’s about creating an emotional experience, where the main triggers are closeness, connection and community. For those fortunate to have that intimacy with family and friends, decorating represents that connection that they have in their life, or for some, it can be a way to provoke those feelings that aren’t usually present, such as either creating an experience that we long for or reliving the nostalgia of decorating when we were younger.
“We want to feel like we are participating in a way that we belong, part of a nation, whether it be just having one little decorative pumpkin, or the little Christmas tree, or the little dollar store flag for Fourth of July,” Springer said. “It’s very symbolic in terms of, it helps us feel connected on a national level, and on a local level and on a personal level.”
Springer stresses that it’s especially important to reach out to anyone you feel may be experiencing a loss or feeling alone during the holiday season, as this time of year can be excruciatingly hard for those people. For those suffering a loss, decorating further acts as a reminder of their loss of connection.
“We are all searching for a sense of belonging and decorating is almost like the art of creating a sense of belonging,” Springer said. “A lot of people don’t feel like they belong, a lot of people feel very alone at different holidays and do not want to participate because it’s too upsetting.”
How to handle the holidays
It’s important to ask ourselves how we’re using our decorations. Are you using your decorations to create a greater sense of wellbeing and happiness for yourself and others? Or are you decorating simply as a way to overcompensate and feel good enough? Whether decorating for the holidays truly makes you happier depends on the person, but there’s no doubt that it can create a joyous experience. Springer suggests volunteering to help decorate in a place where people have experienced that loss of connection, for example, either at a hospital, an assisted living home, or a homeless or domestic violence shelter, where you can help elicit this sense of intimacy.
“Everything is about creating closeness and connection, so when you come together to do an activity, you’re connecting, you’re getting to meet someone. That’s what it’s all about, it’s not about the decoration. It’s about the closeness, connection and sense of community,” Springer said. “We use decorations as a pathway for that experience. We’re just using the decorations, it’s not about the decorations.”