I don’t want to be a “Debbie Downer” at this time of year, but a search of ‘neuroscience + Christmas’ which I expected would direct me to research into why we enjoy feelings of ‘comfort and joy’ or ‘peace and goodwill’ especially at this time of year, instead returned these 4 studies:
- Sadness, in this case induced by watching a heart-wrenching video, can make us desperate to buy! buy! buy!
“The authors (2008 Psychological Science study) reason the sad clip caused participants to devalue both their sense of self and current possessions, making them willing to pay more for new material possessions. Presumably, this could re-enhance their sense of self.”
- Deep loneliness can lead to chronic Grinch syndrome.
“People with an acute sense of social isolation appear to have a reduced response to things that make most people happy, and a heightened response to human conflict. … The Grinch is easier to understand given these findings. … Watching [the citizens of Whoville} surround themselves with happy things like ornaments and gifts and food ticks him off, so he determines to inject some strife into the festivities and watch the fallout.”
- Companies are exploiting neuroscience research into obsession and games to induce us to join, befriend, and play.
“Companies now openly discuss compulsion loops. The goal is to [get us to] gather thousands of friends on Facebook [or] followers on Twitter. In the past, society has been able to put physical barriers in place to make it more difficult to satisfy unhealthy obsessions. Today smartphones and portable electronic devices travel with us in our pockets.”
- Especially good news for those of us who live in the northern latitudes, our ‘little grey cells’ in for a sort of ‘perfect storm’ of neuro-chemical havoc at this time of year.
External conditions and behavioural choices at this time of year can lead to changes in brain/body chemistry including: SADD, chronic inflammation, “brain hyperexcitability,” ” low-alpha state resulting in attention-span issues and an inability to concentrate when you return to work,” stress-induced cortisol overload which impairs your memory and ability to multi-task.
Aren’t any brain scientists out there interested happiness, joy, fulfillment, or contentment? If you know of any research into why Christmas is such a wonderful time of year, please send it my way.
Meanwhile, my Christmas wish for you is to take some time to have fun and (even better) to enjoy a good Santa-like laugh that makes you shake all over like a bowl full of jelly. According to Neuroscience for Kids, laughter has been shown to cause positive changes in the autonomic nervous system, to provide a boost to the immune system, and to reduce levels of stress hormones and neurotransmitters including: cortisol, growth hormone, and catecholamines (dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine). I guess Reader’s Digest did have it right: laugher is the best medicine.