How to replicate Christmas cheer the rest of the year cover image

How to replicate Christmas cheer the rest of the year

Dorian Minors • December 25, 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.

Christmas day. A celebration of the hard work you put in to keep everyone happy for another year. Practice in negotiating with drunken family members. Lessons in assuaging the homophobic fears of your eldest party guests. An education in decibels whilst arguing with family over the quality of the gifts. In all, a lovely holiday and one that is often far more difficult than it could be. So why do we do it? Well, partly tradition I suppose. But a great part of it is the warm, fuzzy feeling of Christmas cheer.

. You know, you could save yourself some time and just eat a whole bunch of food. That makes you feel good too (for a while).

The 'Christmas spirit' is such an integral part of the western, media-friendly image of Christmas we share that one might suggest it's embedded in our culture, regardless of religion or spirituality. Certainly it was assumed that altruism and generosity were a part of it, and the giving and receiving of gifts played a role, but no one ever took the time out to measure it, which is a shame because wouldn't it be nice to feel like that all the time? Well, some did and here's what they say.

One part dejection, five parts good-vibes

These guys found that feelings of dejection accounted for about 10% of the variance in this idea of the 'Christmas spirit'. Yep, Christmas is so stressful that sadness is literally part of the make-up. But, it balances out because bonhomie (those good-vibes and happiness) accounts for about 50% of the variance.

Gay abandon

No, I'm not talking about some kind homeless homosexual refuge. I'm not talking about people 'deciding' to abandon themselves to the 'gay agenda' (you can choose to be gay like you can choose your eye colour, according to science). It's not really something one talks about a lot these days, because we decided to use an awesome word to describe anything negative (and surprise, coming out as gay is still psychologically terrifying). Gay abandon refers here to  the well-being that arises from the occasion and accounts for about 5% of the variance in the Christmas spirit.

What's left?

Ritual and shopping. Yep, when we combine a little sadness with a lot of happiness, make it into a tradition and put some good old fashioned retail-therapy in there, we're left with what's commonly known as Christmas cheer.

. Seriously though, a lot easier to just eat some food. Christmassy food, if you want.

How do we replicate it?

Well it's straight forward. It basically describes every holiday ever. The lead up to a break from work with friends and family delivers a sense of well-being and happiness. Investing in it (literally) leads to commitment. Sadness when it all goes wrong. When you put these things together time and time again, you get a feeling that's distinctive and unique. My advice? Start a new holiday. I'll always remember a quote from I Claudius:

the crowd always likes a holiday... but when the whole year becomes one long holiday, and nobody has time for attending to his business, and pleasure becomes compulsory, then it is a different matter”

I'd think to myself, 'he's making it sound like a bad thing, but that sounds delightful'. I guess now we know it's true. Bring it on. Christmas cheer is one of those things that are unique to the human experience. Albert Bandura talked about three more things that shape how you see the world in your own unique way. And while we speak of family, learn why what's commonly known as the 'love hormone' isn't so lovely. 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.