Why Watching Holiday Movies Makes Us Feel Good, According to Science

Jennifer Billock
'White Christmas' (1954) has been getting people into the holiday spirit for nearly 70 years.
'White Christmas' (1954) has been getting people into the holiday spirit for nearly 70 years. / United Archives/GettyImages
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Have you watched the new Lindsay Lohan Christmas movie, Falling for Christmas, on Netflix yet? The storyline is silly, the characters are over-the-top, and the plot moves too fast to be realistic—but there’s no denying it’ll leave you with a little happy sparkle in your heart, just like every other holiday movie this time of year. And as it turns out, there’s a scientific reason behind that joy we get from watching them.

Pamela B. Rutledge writes in Psychology Today that because holiday movies are predictable and not stressful, they can lead to feelings of comfort and sentimentality, which naturally boost your mood. According to a 2020 study in the book Nostalgia Now, because these movies are easy to follow and have happy endings, they can even reduce stress hormones and increase your cardiovascular health. Plus, if you watch them with someone else, your relationship bonds strengthen.

“When it comes to those cheesy holiday movies we love to watch, we know they are always going to work out in the most positive way and have a happy ending,” Courtney Cope, a psychologist with BetterHelp, told L'Oreal Thompson Payton in an article for Fortune. “It’s a nice vacation from reality for our brains where we can suspend belief and imagine a world where the good guy always wins, families always resolve their differences, the main character always finds true love, and there’s always enough money for the most magical and extravagant dream Christmas gift or trip for the whole family!”

More scientifically, the movies play to our nostalgia bias, a cognitive process that makes us long for past times because we think they were somehow better than now. Holiday movies are designed to work exactly that way. And with the added comfort of a holiday routine (watching the same movies every year, or even new cheesy Hallmark ones) we feel safe and calm—and that’s something that can be hard to find right now, so when we do, our brains eat it up.

Looking for a new movie to watch, or at least a movie that’s new to you? Mental Floss’s new book, The Curious Movie Buff: A Miscellany of Fantastic Films from the Past 50 Years, offers behind-the-scenes details and amazing facts about some of the greatest movies of the past half-century. And it’s available now at your favorite place to buy books, or online right here.

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