For the media

Why holiday movies improve your mood

By Serene Carruthers | December 15, 2023
People at home watching movies

By Serene Carruthers, a licensed marriage and family therapist and manager of Sharp McDonald Center.

Sunday mornings in winter, there’s a good chance you’ll find me on the couch watching “Christmas in the Smokies,” “The Spirit of Christmas” or “A Timeless Christmas” — all modern, made-for-TV holiday movies. Growing up in a small town, where main street parades and holiday craft fairs were my reality, there is something special and comforting about these holiday movies.

As a working mom, they provide an escape from the hustle and bustle of meetings, to-do lists and raising five kiddos. As a licensed marriage and family therapist, I understand how they provide a mental break at a time when many of us need it the most.

The plots are predictable, the endings are happy, and we often see characters that we respect and aspire to be, making decisions that are selfless. Holiday movies also highlight the tenets of the recovery model — an approach to mental wellness that incorporates five core elements that help us improve and grow.

5 core elements of the recovery model

  1. Hope
    We feel a sense of hope when we watch someone find love, peace and joy, especially when it takes less than an hour for that journey to be completed. These movies serve as a reminder that even in the worst of times, there is always hope.

  2. Connection
    Most of us can relate to the loss or longing that is portrayed in these stories. We are human and we are wired for connection. Seeing the power of connection in these movies provides comfort to us, especially during the holiday season.

  3. Empowerment
    We are the author of our own story, and sometimes we forget that. It's nice to have the reminder that at any moment, we can make a different choice, which will produce a different outcome. In these stories, the “fairy-tale factor” allows us to live vicariously through the characters and find our “happily ever after.”

  4. Self-responsibility
    When we see the main character take a risk and accept the past, we see them grow. In these stories, there are simple solutions available that change the trajectory of the main character’s life for the better. Though this may differ from our more complex situation, there is comfort in seeing it all work out.

  5. A meaningful life
    The key to living a meaningful life is living according to our values. These movies help remind us of what matters most and encourage us to find our purpose.

During this holiday season, I wish you a chance to slow down and assess what matters most to you. The holiday season can be a stressful one. So, like the beloved characters in your favorite holiday movie, put time and energy into the things that help you find connection and a meaningful life.

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