A Perfectly Imperfect Christmas

Christmas season has arrived to do its yearly rounds. It’s the season to hum Christmas carols, binge-watch bad Christmas movies and surround ourselves with the infectious Christmas spirit. Christmas has come to emphasise family, compassion and well-being for billions of people but it is far from that ideal. Let’s take a look at what studies say.

A Merry, Merry Christmas

As Christmas is synonymous with a time of merriment, a study aimed to find just what makes Christmas merry. The survey reported that individuals who celebrated Christmas with family or religion at its core, and those who engaged in environmentally conscious Christmas activities experienced a greater amount of happiness. On the flip side, if the materialistic aspects of Christmas were more predominant, then individuals experienced lesser well-being.

Studies show that men and older individuals experienced a merrier Christmas in comparison to women and younger individuals. The authors of the study inferred that older individual greatly engaged in the religious aspects of Christmas while women were more into the materialistic aspects of it. To conclude, Christmas celebrated with emotions at its core were far more merrier than those focussed on materialism.

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Gifting Gifts

We’ve established that the materialistic aspects of Christmas lead to lesser well-being, but let’s delve deeper. Studies show that giving gifts actually makes people happier. Accordingly, spending money on other people has a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. As contradictory as this plays out, the disconnect may lie in what gifts actually represent. It seems as if gifts evolved as indicators of an individual’s regard for another are often read into adequately so.

Research shows that women are active gift givers in comparison to men (84% to 16% ratio). Besides, they are also more likely to buy expensive gifts and gift individuals of both sexes equally. This supports the previous inference that women are more focussed on the materialistic aspects of Christmas, as they largely partake in them.

Cash for Christmas?

Economists suggest an alternative; cold, hard cash. Gifting cash has its advantages. For instance, it can navigate around the epidemic of bad gifts, saves time and reduces stress. Furthermore, as a bonus, this saves resources and is a much more environmentally conscious alternative. But wait, there is, nevertheless, a catch. Studies infer that money has unpleasant associations. The mere presence of money, however subtly placed, can lead an individual to behave in an inconsiderate manner. Experiments signified that individuals are a lot more generous with the option to donate time as opposed to donating money.

Particularly in one experiment, workers either received money or a present of the same value. The workers who received the present considered it a token of kindness and received it more positively. On the other hand, they preferred cash although accepted weakly. The results aren’t really blowing away anyone’s socks. We can take away from all these studies, that people prefer gifts that take time and effort over ones that are expensive, and definitely over cash. At the end of it all, the act of gifting has a positive impact on one’s happiness. In addition, the love and thought that goes behind each gift is bound to be appreciated by the recipient.

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Receiving Gifts

Research indicates that receiving gifts is just as strenuous as giving gifts. While receiving good gifts do little more than cementing a good relationship, receiving bad gifts have a more lasting impact. A study suggested where two strangers, each of the opposite sex, had to gift each other a gift certificate. There was a catch – the participants had to rank the gifts according to their preference prematurely. When gifted a certificate not to their preference, men were more forthcoming on their take on them. Conversely, women appeared to be relatively unaffected by the nature of the presents.

Moreover, a repeat of the experiment, but with pairs in relationships, showed more apparent results. While men were just as outspoken as before, women who received a subpar present appreciated it more than the women who received a good gift.  Researchers inferred from this, that women were more motivated to protect a relationship against the damaging effects of poor gifts. This reaction could be an initial instinct as opposed to it being a determining characteristic in relationships. In particular, it was bound to be a short-term predisposition. Thus, bad gifts have a lasting impact on a relationship irrespective of the individual’s sex.

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It is well-known that Christmas correlates to a decrease in health. Besides, an increase in the number of deaths and hospital admissions can also occur. This led to the effect of Christmas on health being the subject of several studies.

In one study, researchers focussed on coronary artery disease and the occurrence of myocardial infarctions. To elaborate, heart attacks reached their peak on Christmas Eve with a 37% increase, followed by a 17% increase on Christmas. Previous studies portrayed that acute experiences of negative emotions such as anxiety, stress and anger are inducing factors. Hence, this could explain the increase in myocardial infarctions, especially for the elderly, during this time period. The Christmas season is often accompanied by heightened emotional duress. This is amplified by excessive food and alcohol intake, and long-distance travelling. By studying the factors that trigger coronary artery disease, a better understanding of the disease and the patients can be obtained.

Statistics show that there is an increase in hospital admissions and death related to coronary artery disease. However, several studies disproved the notion that there is an increase in the number of suicides and cases of psychopathology in hospitals. In fact, there is a significant reduction in self-harm behaviour and suicides during the Christmas season. However, it is considered that some studies found that there was an increase in psychopathology immediately after. Studies conducted determined that individuals do feel depressed, anxious and lonely during the holiday season. Particularly, those who experience the illusion of missing out on a perfect Christmas. There are also rises in substance and alcohol abuse, and increase in deaths and hospital admissions related to this.

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In A Nutshell

By exploring the studies and as an extension, the effects of Christmas on people, we can observe some general trends. It’s safe to say Christmas still represents its core values. Now to the sombre part.

The correlation between health and Christmas is significant.

There is no shortage of resources available on the wonderment of Christmas.

These two statements appear to be two pieces of different puzzles, and therein lies the problem. By painting a picture-perfect Christmas, feelings of loneliness and anxiety claw their way to the surface for many individuals. Whether it leads to abuse of alcohol or drugs, or a state of depression, the findings are profound enough to be on a fairly large scale. It is important to acknowledge that Christmas is far from perfect, and that in that imperfection lies the Christmas spirit. To conclude with one final study – in a survey conducted, individuals had to define the Christmas spirit. After scouring over the data, Christmas spirit conclusively has five components. These are bonhomie, with gay abandon, ritual, shopping and a little bit of dejection. That pretty much sums up a perfectly imperfect Christmas to me.

Written by Shweta Manoharan

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