Celebration & It’s Health Benefits. Have Yourself A Merry Little Win-Mas!:
So to end the year, let’s go with something that’s a little bit lighter.
There may not be as many double-blind, placebo-controlled, gold-standard studies on this, but it’s something humanity’s been doing for awhile, so it can’t be all bad, right?
Okay there really are bad parts of it, like Holiday Weight Gain, and releasing endotoxin into your body as a result of binge-drinking.
But the other components of celebrating at parties turn out to be pretty great for you! Who knew?
The party-animals at Indiana University, that’s who! Let’s dive in…
The Short Answer:
- Many old societal practices turn out to have a great scientific basis.
- Celebration of all types is one.
- Particularly, because we have a psychological negativity bias due to all the potential threats.
- An Indiana University team found the ideal type.
- It must celebrate one individual’s accomplishments.
- There should be consumption of food and drink.
- It should happen with others in a supportive social environment.
- This reinforces people’s present and anticipated future support.
- Religious groups are very good at this.
- Even religious rituals performed by an individual are successful at reducing anxiety.
- These rituals can even lower anxiety in high-stress environments like war zones.
- In a way, party-celebrations are like practicing large-scale gratitude.
- And gratitude is linked with many psychological & health benefits.
- Gratitude journals & victory boards are effective too, especially if they’re hand-written.
- Celebrating small wins along a path provides encouragement and is often better than just waiting for the big milestones.
- Dopamine & oxytocin are neurotransmitters that help crowd-out anxiety & stress when you celebrate in any way.
- Dopamine would elevate as a result of anticipation & novelty.
- Oxytocin would elevate as a result of positive social experiences.
- Mirror-neurons and common environmental factors like music may also amplify the benefits.
- Music of many types may help get many people physiologically & psychologically in-sync.
- There is no one study yet that seems to cover everything, but the group assembled here seem to reinforce what we all know in the ancient part of our brain.
Read on to find out the details…
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More often than not, we tend to look for the negative in life and our environment; our brains are tuned to it.
Because things can only get so much better, but they can always get a lot worse.
As with almost everything, there’s actually a psychiatric disorder or two named after the anxieties it causes us to live in.
Cherophobia is the fear of being happy, and that if you are something bad is sure to happen.
But anticipatory anxieties aside, there really are a few good reasons to celebrate.
So as you prepare for New Year’s Eve and make promises about not binge-drinking that you’ll break faster than a high-school prom dress coming off,
Here are a few of the better works we could find?
In the most recent work, an IU team lead by Kelly Gullo Wight found that parties absolutely need to happen.
In-fact, it’s still important they go on in some way, even remotely, despite recent problems like the pandemic and lockdowns etc.
Their work reinforces the idea that, just like one of the factors letting SuperAgers live to 100, high-quality social networks make & keep us healthy.
And perhaps the best party should really have that component; maybe that’s why going to ones where we don’t know anyone feels so strange.
But still, they dug deeper and found a few more specific things that make the social-multiplying effect of a party even more effective.
The party should ideally:
1) Celebrate one individual’s specific event, milestone, or achievement
2) Involve the consumption of food & drink
3) Happen with others socially
The team derived these common factors by testing eight different studies for the healthiest & most-successful components of celebrations.
The really great part of this is that it makes the achieving person feel great.
By having people demonstrate some kind of social affinity and connection, it shows support.
As a result, the individual in-question feels supported by the people who show up now, and subconsciously anticipates their support in the future.
So, even though the IU team does not have the blood-work to prove it, not only would it boost all the feel-good chemicals possible in the celebratory individual,
And lower a bunch of the “bad” ones,
It probably does so in some way for the attendees who feel connected, too.
As a footnote to that, perhaps it’s possible that a small group of individuals being celebrated might constitute an acceptable, if less effective, party.
But there is another shoe to drop in the equation of social rituals, and it might also add to that last point.
They’ve shown that ritual behavior in religious social groups helps to reduce anxiety.
And the more procedural the ritual behavior was, the greater the reduction, too.
Rituals alone can act as a buffer by making things more predictable and reducing fear of the unknown a bit, in something psychologists call “Anxiety-Buffering”.
So if that’s true, just think what a party could do even if it can sometimes lack the community-tightness of a religion or local church.
Still to be realistic, there would also be an absence of the meditative component that usually accompanies religious events with praying, chanting, closing eyes, bowing heads, etc.
A little further out than that, a Harvard study found that rituals conducted at the individual level also reduce anxiety,
Even when it’s just down to that person alone doing something like public-speaking, going on a first date, or interviewing for a job.
Compared to Martin’s work though, we could probably guess that the effect might be smaller than if a social support system were there.
On a much more serious side-note, rituals were also observed to deal with the very real stresses of war.
In northern Israel, women were able to reduce their anxiety even despite the daily threat of rocket attacks by terrorist groups.
And they did this through the ritualistic recitation of psalms from holy scriptures.
So maybe the individual ritual is pretty powerful on it’s own, too?
As a matter of fact, practicing celebrations may be healthy for you because it trains you to notice the positive instead of just our negativity bias.
Martin Seligman’s work on “Three Good Things”, shows in a way that focusing on positive experiences and events can create a sense of happiness that lasts for months.
Practicing gratitude has been proven to have many positive effects on health. So from a certain point of view, celebrations are a type of festival-size in-person gratitude-journal; especially in groups or even the most optimal ones as defined by IU.
At the smaller scale, individuals like entrepreneurs are often encouraged to celebrate their wins; even the small ones.
Because waiting only for the bigger milestones actually equals a missed-opportunity for daily or weekly encouragement.
Also in an individual effort, if you use a Gratitude journal as a source of written-celebration on your own, there is evidence that may be even more helpful.
-Especially if it’s hand-written. Because other studies have shown, that notes written down by hand on paper are remembered far better than those typed out on a computer.
So while you’re out at that big New Year’s Eve rager, be sure to take notes; handwritten notes. (just kidding.)
In a weird parallel to the negativity-bias vs. gratitude practice,
Dr. John Cacioppo’s team found that you need a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative to keep any relationship healthy.
-Perhaps even the relationship with yourself.
So you should probably be celebrating anything, even small wins a little more frequently.
As far as the biochemistry goes, celebration probably has a combination of increases in dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins.
Actually, if you borrow the idea of anticipation-rewards from the vacation-maximizing article, the lead-up to the party itself might even be more fun than the event.
And what neurotransmitter does anticipation trigger? -Dopamine!
Dopamine is associated with new & exciting experiences, which would certainly be triggered by a new place, new scenario, and the unexpected events of mixing around with different people.
You might even start expressing genes differently!
Oxytocin comes from being around other people in a positive way & bonding with them.
Depending on how the celebration goes, this may be particularly-powerful in the small & close-style group implied by the IU work.
Not only that but the social-amplifier of mirror-neurons may help, too.
Because they make you feel the emotions other people are displaying.
So when you see other people getting pumped-up, you would naturally do the same.
In kind, the principle of cognitive-dissonance means that all that fun will replace the anxiety.
That dopamine & oxytocin may also work if you have social-anxiety as a result of serotonin-overproduction.
Because all meme-jokes aside,
Cognitive-dissonance means your mind does not like to have two diametrically-opposed thoughts, emotions or neurochemical-states going on at the same time.
So you can overwhelm one with the other and one always predominates.
-This is also another example of why you are so affected by others and the old personal development saying of,
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
And if there is music at the party it may also sync-up people’s physiologies in ways similar to those found in choir singing groups.
You may not be inhaling, exhaling, and pitch-controlling all with respect to each other, but if everyone’s moving in-sync to “Hungry Like The Wolf”, then maybe something similar is going on.
It may also help your health if you celebrate as a practice, because cognitive-distortion and biochemistry will work directly to counter excess cortisol & release stress, which we know is a killer.
Even though there was no single study that covered the whole perspective on celebrations that do not involve binge-drinking and sleep-deprivation,
There is certainly enough out there to support the ancient human practice of going to a good place at a good time and whooping it up a little and remember to make life special.
Whether it’s in IU’s ideal scenarios, in large groups where you still feel at-ease, or even something special on your own,
Celebrations may not only be good for your Victory Journal or your psychology. They just might be great for your health, too!
Happy New Year, Health Trekkers!