Why Christmas Rituals Make You Feel Happier

Study on rituals before eating reveals why they should be observed.

Study on rituals before eating reveals why they should be observed.

Every family has their Christmas rituals: it may be who hands out the presents, what songs are played or sung, what is watched on TV or where you sit at the table.

While these may all have special significance as making it your particular Christmas, are they just regular routines that have evolved over the years or do they have a psychological impact?

In fact, a study finds, rituals performed before eating or drinking can indeed enhance the pleasure we get (Vohs et al., 2013).

Professor Kathleen Vohs, who led the study said:

“Whenever I order an espresso, I take a sugar packet and shake it, open the packet and pour a teeny bit of sugar in, and then taste.

It’s never enough sugar, so I then pour about half of the packet in. The thing is, this isn’t a functional ritual, I should just skip right to pouring in half the packet.”

In the study some people were given very specific instructions for how they should eat a chocolate bar:

 “Without unwrapping the chocolate bar, break it in half.

Unwrap half of the bar and eat it.

Then, unwrap the other half and eat it.”

Compared with another group who ate the bar how they wanted, those who performed this ritual rated the chocolate more highly and savoured it more.

So perform all those Christmas rituals just as you always have: that way you’ll enjoy and savour it more.

And if your Christmas lunch is a little late, then take heart from the second part of the study, which found that a longer wait after the ritual and before eating increased the pleasure even more…

…even when people were only eating carrots!

Happy Holidays!

• Read on: The 12 Psychology Studies of Christmas


Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

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