3 Reasons Our Brain Loves Christmas Spirit
Christmas is a time of year many of us look forward to all year. Streets light up and decorations bring a fun and festive spirit everywhere we go. We get to celebrate with friends and family, laughing over hot chocolate and ugly sweaters while exchanging gifts. But there’s a reason (or three) the season is so jolly and bright.
1- The helper’s high
The idea of a helper’s high is relatively new. It came about in the 1980s but steady research continues to uphold the initial findings. Turns out, there’s a reason Santa’s elves are always singing and smiling while they work.
When we are involved in the act of giving, our brain lights up like a Christmas tree. The brain releases dopamine and endorphins when we engage in giving behaviors, along with activating the emotional amygdala and the empathetic insula. Doing things like volunteering, exchanging gifts, donating to the less fortunate all activate this feel-good effect.
2- The Christmas spirit network
Some people seem to have Christmas on the brain. It turns out, they literally do. Researchers found that people who actively celebrate the holiday have pronounced reactions in their brains. Further, it isn’t simply engaging in those celebrations that activates our brain, simply talking about our annual traditions or viewing images that remind us of Christmas induces the same effects.
This Christmas spirit network consists of several areas in our brain. The parietal lobules, somatosensory cortex, and the premotor cortex. These areas are largely recognized as playing pivotal roles in spirituality, facial recognition and memory, body sensations, and interpreting emotions. These activate sensations along with memories, which then trigger the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin.
3- The cuddle effect
Christmas is often associated with spending time with people. We get time off from work or school, and whether we travel or stay home, we tend to spend more time with our friends and families. This feeling of togetherness prompts the brain to release the hormone oxytocin, otherwise known as the cuddle hormone.
Oxytocin is responsible for the warm fuzzy feelings we associate with all the varieties of love. The more time we spend with people we love, this feeling of trust and intimacy grows. And because these are tied with our memories, thinking about the holidays can release oxytocin in our brain, making us crave time with friends and family.
Christmas is a holiday that looks different for everyone. Celebrations can be big or small, religious or secular. But no matter how people experience their Christmas cheer, the brain loves them all.