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Can Christmas lights make you happy?

Published: Dec. 29, 2020 at 4:01 AM MST
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — The holiday season can signify different things for everyone. For many, Christmas lights are a staple of the holiday cheer.

But can the array of lights and colors have a direct impact on happiness?

College of Southern Idaho Professor of Psychology Dr. Randy Simonson says Christmas lights can increase dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that can make someone feel pleasure or satisfaction.

However, Simonson says the color of the lights aren’t the direct cause of the satisfaction. He says the feelings come from previous experiences with lights and the holidays.

In long term memory formation, dopamine plays a role.

“Dopamine not only gives us those wonderful feelings, seriously, but the dopamine also is part of forming that association from my childhood so that I can keep those memories, code them, pattern them, connect them,” Simonson said. “So that when I have Christmas time again or whatever happy event again, the brain itself is serving as this reminder tool.”

Simonson says traditions, whether for Christmas or other situations, can do more than just make you happy.

“It helps us feel a part of something bigger than us, and that’s a bolstering feeling as well,” Simonson said. “It actually helps us deal with stress in a positive way to feel that we are part of something larger than us.”

Simonson says holiday traditions like trees and lights help to feel a sense of normalcy in this trying year. The professor says the more a sense of normal, the easier it is to have hope about the future.

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