Minding the Body

The guide to health and happiness

Holiday Memories Make You Feel Warmer

Heartwarming memories of holidays past chase away the winter chill.

snowman
Nostalgic holiday memories could help keep you toasty when the thermometer drops, based on a fascinating study led by Xinyue Zhou, PhD, a psychology professor at Sun Yat-Sen University in China. It turns out that thinking sentimental thoughts can make a chilly room seem 7 degrees warmer.

Warm Memories of Holidays Past

For the study, published earlier this year in the journal Emotion, Zhou and her colleagues conducted five related experiments. In one, college students were asked to recall an event from their past—either an ordinary memory or one tinged with nostalgia, defined as “sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past.” They were asked to list four words relevant to the event and reflect briefly on the event and their feelings about it.

Then the students estimated the temperature of the room they were sitting in. Although the room was held at a constant 61 degrees F, the nostalgia group perceived it as warmer than the other group did. They estimated the temperature at a comfy 68 degrees F, on average.

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In another experiment, two groups of students again focused on either an ordinary memory or a nostalgic one. This time, however, they were asked to immerse a hand in freezing cold water and hold it there until it became too uncomfortable. Those in the nostalgia group kept their hands immersed longer than the others, demonstrating enhanced tolerance for the cold.

Time to Rent The Notebook Again

It’s not the first time researchers have found a link between warm, fuzzy thoughts and physical warmth. Another recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that volunteers who drank iced tea were more likely than those who drank hot tea to like romance movies. This difference wasn’t seen for action flicks, comedies, or thrillers. Physical coldness seemed to specifically activate the need to watch a heartwarming movie.

In yet another study, volunteers played a computer ball-tossing game with what they believed to be other players online. In reality, the game was rigged so that some volunteers seemed to be getting left out by other players. Afterward, they all filled out a supposedly unrelated marketing survey, rating how much they wanted five different food products. The survey included two warm foods (hot coffee, hot soup), a cold food (an icy soda), and two temperature-neutral foods (crackers, an apple).

Volunteers who had been excluded in the computer game craved the coffee and soup more than those who weren’t left out. But there wasn’t any difference in how much they wanted the other foods. So in this study, getting the cold shoulder seemed to specifically activate a need for physical warmth.

The takeaway: Nostalgic thoughts and warmhearted feelings help chase away the winter chill. And it’s a two-way street. When you feel left out in the cold emotionally, curling up with a nice cup of hot cocoa and warm blanket could be just the comfort you need.

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a writer who specializes in health, psychology, and the intersection between the two. Follow her on Twitter. Like her on Facebook.

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a health writer with a master's degree in health psychology.

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