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Go ahead, put up the Christmas lights! Science says it will make you happier

You have the perfect excuse to break out the decorations asap!
by Rheana Murray / / Source: Today

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If you're itching to break out the Christmas lights before you've even carved the Thanksgiving turkey, go ahead — psychologists say it might make you happier.

The British website Unilad got us all thinking about trimming the tree a few weeks early. It reported expert comments about how people who decorate earlier are simply tapping into the excitement of the holidays before the rest of us — which makes them happier.

Psychologist Deborah Serani told TODAY Home it's true: Decorating can definitely lift your mood.

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"It does create that neurological shift that can produce happiness," she said. "I think anything that takes us out of our normal habituation, the normal day in, day out ... signals our senses, and then our senses measure if it's pleasing or not."

"Christmas decorating will spike dopamine, a feel-good hormone," Serani added.

But what is it, exactly, about Christmas decorations that triggers those happy hormones? For starters, the bright lights and colors, Serani said. Chromotherapy, or color therapy, which is thought to increase energy levels and boost happiness, might be at play. Or maybe it’s just the ambiance in general — who can resist smiling at the sight of a Christmas tree being lit for the first time? There’s even a new scientific field, devoted to understanding how our designed environments affect behavior, called neuro-architecture.

Of course, there's also the nostalgia factor.

“For a lot of us, Christmas is a magical time, it’s a time of innocence, it’s a time of joy,” Serani said.

If you're someone who has happy childhood memories of the holidays, then you're more likely to want to re-create that feeling sooner rather than later, which you might do by hanging up Christmas lights, for example. There’s a flip side, though. If holidays dredge up bad memories from childhood, then you might be the person who hates when decorations pop up in the grocery store and it’s only October.

If you identify more with the latter, psychologist and happiness expert Elizabeth Lombardo has this tip: "Start a new tradition," she told TODAY Home. "Whether it's going away, seeing a movie as a family, volunteering. It creates a new association." The next time the holidays roll around, you'll subconsciously connect that time of the year with your newer, happier memories.

There's another possible benefit to decorating early, though: The neighbors might think you're friendlier! Research has shown that people interpret Christmas decorations on a home as a cue that the people inside are sociable.

So if you’re post-Thanksgiving plans include shopping for a Christmas tree, we won’t judge you. In fact, there’s a good chance we’ll be right behind you!

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