At this time of year, many things give us warm-and-fuzzy feelings (a.k.a “the feels”)—certain songs, foods, specific smells (like balsam fir), and images can instantly improve our moods and get us in the “Christmas spirit.” But did you ever stop and wonder why that is? The answer is pretty simple: good old-fashioned nostalgia.
Holidays And The Dopamine Connection
We associate the twinkling colored lights, decorated Christmas trees, and other items we see and smell at this time of the year with memories of childhood and traditions, which flood our brains with the feel-good chemical, dopamine.
Even more interesting is that dopamine, some researchers say, is more related to anticipatory pleasure and motivation. Like waiting for Santa or dreaming of that white Christmas morning. . . .
Research That Lights Up . . . Like A Christmas Tree?
A team of researchers at Copenhagen University tested 2 groups: those who celebrated Christmas and those who did not; then showed each group a series of Christmas-themed images. Brain scans of test subjects who celebrated Christmas revealed certain areas of the brain “lit up” when they saw the Christmas-themed photos, while those areas did not light up in the group who didn’t celebrate.
But according to nostalgia expert, Krystine Batcho, Professor of Psychology at Le Moyne College in New York, those warm and fuzzy feelings are complicated and translate to bittersweet, for some. “The bitter part is knowing that the past is irretrievable, it will never be again, and that particular feeling is clearly negative,” she says. “But what rescues us from despair around the holidays—or any other time—is the sweet part.”
The Magic of The Holidays: Feeling Connected
Perhaps that sweet part is why it’s called “the magic of Christmas.” Because when we feel happier, we feel closer to our loved ones and more connected to the things and people that matter to us. And in most cases, that’s the way it was during the Christmases of our past.
So whether it’s the smell of a freshly cut tree, watching your favorite holiday movie, or seeing the twinkling of Christmas lights that give you that positive holiday feeling, be sure to embrace it and enjoy it while it lasts. (If only we could bottle it up and use it all year long!)
What gives you those warm and fuzzy holiday feelings? Tell us in the comments below!