Christmas time is usually considered to be a time of warmth and joy. Most of us tend to look forward to spending time with family and friends, indulging ourselves with treats and sharing gifts. Given these holiday activities, it may be surprising to hear that there is research to suggest that Christmas may have an adverse effect on particular elements of our subjective well-being. Subjective well-being accounts for an individual’s own experiences and perceptions of their life and is composed of cognitive and affective components. Higher recorded levels of subjective well-being have been found to be associated with greater health and lifestyle outcomes whereas the opposite has been found to be true for lower recorded levels.
Dr. Michael Mutz from the University of Göttingen in Germany, recently carried out a largescale survey across several countries in Europe in order to explore the effect that Christmas has on two aspects of our subjective well-being: life satisfaction (a cognitive component) and emotional well-being (affective component). What Dr. Mutz found was that in the immediate period leading up to Christmas, individuals reported lower levels of both life satisfaction and emotional well-being than in the weeks ensuing Christmas or during a period unconnected to Christmas. What is more is that Dr. Mutz found that individuals who identified as being Christian experienced less significant decreases in both areas of subjective well-being. In fact, those who endorsed their beliefs to a higher degree reported minimal to no changes in life satisfaction and emotional well-being.
So what do these findings tell us? Is Christmas actually an unhappy holiday after all, and if so, how can we avoid the pitfalls that cause the Christmas slump? Dr. Mutz’ findings are similar to previous work suggesting that increased levels of spirituality (with any religion) can have positive outcomes for subjective well-being. This may be because an association with positive values of a religion such as sharing and charitableness may help to reduce the impact of the more materialistic aspects of holidays such as Christmas that can cause considerable stress. As well as this, an overt focus on the materialistic aspects of Christmas may cause individuals to self-compare which ultimately leads to the development of unrealistic expectations and resulting disappointment. Increases in levels of stress and disappointment stemming from materialistic preoccupations regarding Christmas therefore may therefore account for Dr. Mutz’ recent findings.
Christmas for many has come to be symbolised as a time for love and celebration and ultimately as a time for happiness. Nevertheless exploration into subjective well-being which as a construct is essentially a self-evaluation of one’s overall happiness, appears to deteriorate during the Christmas period for those who do not attach themselves directly to the religious content of the holiday. In order to avoid this, individuals who regardless of their religious orientation, identify with Christmas as a period for celebration, should aim to do just that, celebrate without being overly consumed by the consumer culture that envelops Christmas today. In order to do this, it may be beneficial to adopt a more purposeful way of celebrating that entails many of the original Christian principles of Christmas, without necessarily attaching to the religious content. Of course this is easier said than done but nevertheless but certainly gives us some food for thought as we approach the big day.
The article referenced can be accessed here.
Ms. Niamh Allen, M.A. B.Sc.