I usually don’t do much in the way of decorating for Christmas in my Washington, DC apartment because I’m leaving town to be with family in California. But this year, I’ve embraced decorating (and done it early) for other holidays — as a way to freshen up my space and give myself a relaxing focal point while working from home — and I plan to do the same for Christmas. .begin right after Thanksgiving. This fall, for example, when my sense of Halloween nostalgia hit particularly hard, I decorated my tables and shelves with ceramic pumpkins and my walls with garlands of felt bats and ghosts. (I also filled my weekends with seasonal activities, like trips to a nearby pumpkin patch and a jack-o’-lantern carving party.) I found that the more I engaged with the season, the happier I felt.
“Decorating during the holidays can give us a little boost of feel-good hormones that can scientifically boost our mood.” — Neha Chaudhary, MD, psychiatrist
It turns out that decorating for the holidays can be a happiness-promoting activity in its own right, “giving us a little rush of hormones that can scientifically boost our mood,” says the double board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist. Neha Chaudhary, MDchief medical officer at the workplace mental health care platform Modern Health. (The warm, fuzzy feeling I get as I hang ornaments and analyze the space between my figurines is no accident.) This is especially powerful this time of year, given its association with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or “winter blues’, describing the negative impact of the often cold, dark days of winter on mood for many.
The reason decorating for the holidays can cause such joy has to do with its connection to ritual and nostalgia, which can make life more meaningful1. “For some people, decorating can fondly remind them of past memories associated with the holiday season,” says Dr. Chaudhary. For example, in my case, decorating brings to mind the other joyful rituals I associate with Christmas, like relaxing to watch holiday movies and baking cookies while listening to carols. (By the same token, it’s worth noting that for those who might associate not-so-happy memories with the holiday season, the decorations could conjure up a negative mood or evoke feelings of sadness or anger.)
According to Dr. Chaudhary, the positive rituals we do can also imbue us with a sense of comfort, stability and belonging. For me, trimming my family tree with ornaments I’ve collected throughout the year on various adventures always sweetens the meaning of an activity that would have no meaning at all if it weren’t for the memories and routine associated with it. It’s no wonder that doing the same kind of holiday decorating in my apartment can evoke the same warm feelings – and doing it early in the season might just extend those feel-good benefits.
Not to mention the inherent mood-boosting potential of an activity that involves creativity and working with your hands. “For some people, decorating can be a type of mindful activity that keeps them present and focused in a way that’s good for mental health,” adds Dr. Chaudhary.
Since my long-arranged decorations in the days leading up to Christmas remain packed away in the closets of my family’s home in California, I’ve made a recent project of packing mine for my DC apartment. Right now, I’m working on saving a Christmas village and plan to hang a garland of gold stars. For my mini Christmas tree, I’m also ready to add some new ornaments that I picked up on a recent trip to Liberty department store, London. With the darkness of winter fast approaching, I know these bright accents will be a welcome light.
Well+Good articles refer to scientific, credible, recent, robust studies to support the information we share. You can trust us on your wellness journey.
Van Tilburg, Wijnand A., et al. “How nostalgia imbues life with meaning: From social connection to self-continuity.” European Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 49, no. 3, 2019, pp. 521-532, doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2519.