Why we are happier during the holidays

As part of our research, we have looked and analyzed data from people who report how happy they feel at randomly selected moments during daily life. These data reveal that we actually are happier than usual on holidays. In fact, Christmas Day, though not celebrated by everyone, is the happiest day of the year by a significant margin. Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve are not too far behind. While it’s easy to call to mind children fighting over toys or distant relations making awkward conversation, the holidays are, relatively speaking, quite happy. It seems it is because spending time with our friends and family turns out to be a robustly positive predictor of our happiness.

Of course, this is not to say that everyone is happy on the holidays or that we are as happy as we could be, but holiday misery is the exception rather than the rule. Why is this the case? There are several reasons, but one of the main reasons is that we spend more time interacting with our friends and family on these holidays and, as it turns out, doing so is a robustly positive predictor of our happiness.

How could we be happier during the holidays? Although we are demonstrably happier on specific holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas and on a few of the immediately surrounding days (like Christmas Eve), our happiness during the weeks surrounding these holidays is merely average. We are neither overcome with stress nor bursting with holiday cheer. One drag on happiness is last minute shopping. People are not pervasively unhappy when shopping during the holidays — except on Dec. 23, 24 or 25, when shopping excursions are associated with significantly lower levels of happiness. More generally, if we used the holiday season as an excuse to routinely spend more time sharing meals, playing games and connecting with our friends and family, our happiness on a typical day in December might begin to look a lot like Christmas on any given day.

Do you agree or disagree with these findings? We would love to hear some of your thoughts on and opinions and how you would rate your happiness on the holidays!

Why we are happier during the holidays
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