I love peppermint hot chocolate, ugly sweaters, old claymation Christmas movies, the comically large holiday inflatables from Home Depot, and all other things holiday related. If it was up to me, all radios would start playing holiday music in September. Despite my own personal opinions, there has always been a long-standing debate on when the holiday season actually starts: Is it after Thanksgiving? Dec. 1? Mid-November? Although celebrations are usually isolated to December, extending the holiday season by a couple weeks might be an easy way to add joy to an extremely hard year.
2020 has gone down in history as one of the worst years ever, and the mental toll has been pervasive. Amidst the pandemic, global protests, and an extremely contentious election, the Centers for Disease Control reports elevated cases of diagnosable mental health disorders among Americans. Of course, having some eggnog in November won’t completely undo the trauma caused by 2020, but experts do recommend finding little bits of joy in everyday life to combat quarantine-related depression. As sung by Andy Williams, the holiday is “the most wonderful time of the year,” and many people could benefit from extending that season a little bit longer.
Moreover, that “holly jolly” happy feeling is backed by science. Christmas time can actually change your hormones and prompt your brain to produce more feel-good chemicals. For example, people’s brains automatically produce more dopamine if they are around Christmas decorations. Additionally, Christmas music is intentionally structured in a way that is more pleasing to the brain and releases extra serotonin. The neurological effects are so strong that some scientists actually use holiday music in treating intense stress or chronic pain.
Perhaps the most significant reason why people are happier during the holidays, however, is that many people get to spend the holidays with their families. 2020 has put extra stress on families, especially considering economic hardships and political divides. With this in mind, many aren’t excited to go home for the holidays. This being said, spending time with family is the strongest indicator of joy. Collective joy rises during the holidays because many people are lucky enough to spend that with loved ones. Having decorations up activates the nostalgia centers in your brain and reminds you of your loved ones, putting you in an overall better mood.
The holiday season is proven to be a more joyful time for most people, and starting celebration a little early might be a small way to add more happiness into people’s lives. If the holidays aren’t your thing though, don’t feel pressured to partake in celebrating. The pain of 2020 won’t be erased by an extra-long holiday season; however, it can be made more bearable by finding little ways to bring joy into your life. Do you love Halloween? Keep wearing your Spooky Season gear. Do you miss early March when you still thought COVID wasn’t that big of a deal? Here’s a recipe for homemade Shamrock Shakes. Do you absolutely love Christmas? It’s ok to start listening to Michael Bublé’s “Christmas” album even though it’s still November.
Especially in 2020, there is no timeline on activities that bring you happiness.
Art by Angela Liang for the UC San Diego Guardian