How to win Christmas (according to psychology) cover image

How to win Christmas (according to psychology)

Dorian Minors • December 23, 2015

This is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and turn it into wisdom. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. As such, these articles live here in archive form, until they're updated.

You know that famous Christmas song? It goes

It's the most wonderful time of the year"

Good song right? Did you ever wonder why the third line goes

And everyone telling you be of good cheer"?

Seems like an odd thing to insert. Why would anyone have to tell you to be of good cheer? Oh who are we kidding. Christmas, as wonderful as it is, is a very stressful time. As a child, you're somewhat oblivious to it. But as soon as you're old enough to start buying presents for people, Christmas gets exponentially more difficult. Soon, fuzzy memories of happy times around the Christmas tree make way for white-knuckled shopping-cart expeditions; careening around corners to grab the last object of the latest craze going around at your kid's school. Even worse if you're risking shopping-cart induced blunt force trauma for a niece/nephew. Or worsest, if they aren't even related to you (all of a sudden your friends' endearing habit of getting their kids to call you Aunt/Uncle seems less than magnanimous).Well fear not, because I'm here to share with you the secrets to an easy Christmas according to people who weren't paid by advertising companies.

. If you buy that nuisance fake niece/nephew a puppy, it'll teach those friends of yours to mess with your parental emotions.

Spend money!

Yep, seriously. Did you think I was going to tell you it's really the thought that counts? I'd only write a blog article that platitudinous if I wasn't going to post it on my own website. Besides, that might very well be true for the recipient of your latest abortive attempt at craft (that's just me lashing out because one time I glued my hand to my hand in art class), but if you'd troubled to click that link at the start, you'd know that this one is for you. In an effort to show that spending money feels as good as making money, researchers from the University of British Columbia found that the more people spend (specifically on others) in relation to their income, the more happiness they get out of it. Could be something to do with the confirmation bias, or to do with the fact that we synthesise happiness, but whatever the reason the message is clear. Don't let that money burn a whole in your pocket this Christmas and spend it on everyone else. Maybe buy groceries first.

No, actually spend it

Did you just whip out the standard Christmas card and push a $20 in there (I'm looking at you grandma)? Well take it out and go actually buy something. Apparently, just using money as a gift doesn't make anyone feel particularly great. It's not the cash, it's the message you convey with the gift that matters. Specifically, a message that conveys intimacy (or you could just have a conversation with them). Yep, when I said I wouldn't write about the thought being the thing that counted, I was lying. But only a little because...

. Well, maybe if you folded the money into origami and then wrapped it, it might count.

Both gifts and money aren't what's really important

You knew this was coming. Christmas (or, in fact any holiday where gift giving occurs) has very much become about the sharing of gifts but every Christmas morning TV special ends with the same idea. Christmas is about family. And it's true according to science. In the words of this study:

More happiness was reported when family and religious experiences were especially salient, and lower well-being occurred when spending money and receiving gifts predominated.

Yep, Christmas is all about what Christmas should be about; surprise, surprise. So how do we win Christmas? Well, as the song goes

hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near

But failing that... Spend all your money. Alright, so you've beaten Christmas and everyone is happy. Want to maintain it through the year? Well, see how choices can actually make us less happy. And the three reasons you're unhappy in the workplace (or the three reasons you're happy and how to maintain it). Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and 'the good life' at The Dirt Psychology.

Turning scholarship into wisdom we can use at The Armchair Collective.

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Dorian Minors

I mostly do brain science. Sometimes I train honeybees. I promise they're related. I made this site because there's no reason why scholars should be the only ones to own knowledge. My special interests are interpersonal relationships, the science of community, spirituality and the brain, and the neural basis of complex behaviour. I hope this stuff is as interesting to you as it is to me. You can find out more about me here.