Waiting for the right moment to trim your Christmas tree? Experts say, the sooner the better.
Every year, without fail, around this point on the calendar, there’s a heated debate about when it’s acceptable to break out the Christmas decorations.
Some say it’s December 1st, others think that as soon as Halloween passes it’s fair game. If you’re a shopping centre, then you’re likely unboxing the tinsel by July 1st.
While early adopters cop a bit of flack in the public discourse, and many people find Christmas more stressful than they do exciting, experts say that trimming your tree early may actually have a positive impact on your mindset.
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There’s no doubt that as Christmastime approaches, workloads increase, spending can go way over budget, and you’re often forced to spend time with people you’d rather not. But cons aside, it’s also a season of joy and togetherness, and the mere act of decorating for the holidays can be a happiness booster.
Child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Neha Chaudhary told Well+Goodthat „Decorating around the holidays can give us a little spike of feel-good hormones that can scientifically boost our mood,” dubbing it a “happiness-promoting activity”.
But it’s not because a light dusting of pine needles on your carpet sparks joy in and of itself. It comes back to the concept of nostalgia and core memories, which a 2018 study says “infuses life with meaning”.
„For some people, decorating can remind them fondly of previous memories associated with the holiday season,“ says Chaudhary. Maybe it was your mum and dad dancing to carols in the living room as a child, which was always decorated with candles and red ribbons. Or it could be more recent memories, like cooking a roast with your partner last Christmas eve, with the Christmas tree twinkling in the next room.
If you have close associations with the season, cracking open the decorations can unlock those memories, and have them all flowing back.
Memory and our emotions are strongly linked with smell and taste, which Raymond Leo Erikson Life Sciences Professor at Harvard, Venkatesh Murthy, says is due to the anatomy of the brain.
Smells belong to the olfactory bulb, the structure at the front of the brain, inferior to the frontal lobe, which send information to other areas of the body for processing. Per the Harvard Gazette, odours go straight to the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, which are the areas associated with emotion and memory.
Thus, decorating your house with a candle that smells of pine needles, or baking gingerbread, can unlock happy memories that are also tied to those smells. Just keep in mind that if you have upsetting memories of the holidays, decorating your home early can unlock those not-so-happy recollections too.
The good news is, that while the science applies to decorating for the holidays, it also checks out for other seasons or events that spark joy. You may hate Christmas because of strained relationships with your extended family unit but thoroughly look forward to the summertime. By donning your house with things that subconsciously or overtly remind you of summer holidays, you can hack into those same dopamine hits.
Similarly, if someone you know loves birthdays, maybe they’ll opt to celebrate many times throughout the month, rather than just once, to build anticipation and marinate in the memories of happy birthdays in years prior.
Dr Chaudhary points out that while these positive rituals can make us feel calm and happy, they can also provide moments of mindfulness, in a season that’s typically quite hectic.
“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,“ she says.
So whether you’re into Christmas, or just into the summertime and a good two weeks off work, we suggest making the most of the season, and finding fun ways of welcoming those happy memories into your home – apparently, it’s exactly what the doctor ordered.