Picture the holidays, and certain images may come to mind: green garland above a hearth, red baubles on a tree, a row of lit candles, and presents wrapped in glimmering paper. These images aren’t just comforting; they may show a surprising link between holiday decorating and happiness.
Boost your mental health
According to psychologist Deborah Serani, the bright colors, twinkling lights, and other seasonal fixtures of the holiday season can improve your mood. “It does create that neurological shift that can produce happiness,” she told Today. “I think anything that takes us out of our normal habituation, the normal day in, day out . . . signals our senses, and then our senses measure if it’s pleasing or not.” Serani then confirms, “Christmas decorating will spike dopamine, a feel-good hormone.”
In other words, festive surroundings add variety and intrigue to your daily life, which can help you detach from the stressors like work responsibilities that may make you unhappy. Of course, Christmas decor isn’t the only decor that makes people happier. Whatever you celebrate, do so with gusto and be as festive as you’d like; it just might make the holidays a happier season. Or follow Serani’s advice year-round and decorate for holidays throughout the year, from Valentine’s Day to Thanksgiving.
The effect is even true for those who tend to suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or negative mood changes associated with colder, shorter days. In fact, the National Institutes of Health states that activities like decorating your home for the holidays may “help individuals identify and schedule pleasant, engaging indoor or outdoor activities to combat the loss of interest they typically experience in the winter.”
What about those who associate the holidays with stress like high shopping expenses or family conflict? Find your own way to decorate—or even your own holiday to celebrate. There are many ways to be festive, and your home doesn’t have to look the way people expect it to. For example, adorn your door with whatever makes you happy, even if it’s not a classic Christmas wreath. Taking control over your decorating tasks and personalizing them to your wishes will make the festivities more satisfying.
Decorate to your own standards
Taking holiday decorating too seriously is a surefire way to increase stress or unhappiness. Try to regulate where you find your decorating inspiration. While decorating outlets and social media images may be solid sources of ideas, they can also become sources of stress or self-doubt if you take them at face value.
Did you know that some of the photos you see on social media are often the work of expensive design teams? In addition, images you see in blogs and magazines may be the result of filters or other photo effects that create a look that isn’t possible in person; such tools enrich color contrasts and edit out clutter like tape and hooks to piece together the perfect image.
So try to resist the temptation to “compete” with family members, friends, or images on social media—much less celebrity homes and professional design teams. Instead, decorate to your own standards. Try not to focus so much on what’s in style and more on what makes you happy. Your own happy design activities may be very mild, like setting up a simple tree or putting out some plaid throw blankets.
Bond with loved ones
To have the happiest season you can, remember what’s at the heart of holiday decorating: the opportunity to bond with loved ones. Even if you aren’t hosting company this holiday season, setting up holiday decor is an opportunity to get creative and enjoy shared activities with your family, like hanging garlands around your living room. That way, everyone can enjoy the mood-boosting benefits of decorating for the holidays.
Be sure to make everyone feel included, even your littlest ones; ask everyone how they want to decorate, and then let them satisfy their creative wishes. Children may have wild or silly ideas, like decorating with candy, but do your best to encourage them. If you aren’t crazy about company seeing their decor, don’t tell your children that their ideas aren’t “good enough”; just allow them to decorate their bedrooms—then shut the door when you have company. Everyone wins.
What if you live alone? Go wild, and decorate however you’d like! You don’t have to host anyone to validate your design choices. Not only is “holiday decorating” a term that you can define anyway you’d want, but the act of decorating may be the best part. Playing some fun music while you put up decor can be a wonderful way to spend an evening, and surrounding yourself with festive imagery every day can make you happier. This isn’t just the stuff of cheesy holiday movies; psychologists like Dr. Serani actually encourage it.