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What does holiday depression look like?

Submitted by on January 20, 2011 – 1:01 am11 Comments

Mood 24/7 Holiday Depression Infographic

There is a lot of information out there about Holiday Depression & Loneliness and Holiday Depression & Stress, but the Mood 24/7 team wanted to see what Holiday Depression looked like among our user base. So we calculated the average daily mood from every anonymized Mood 24/7 user’s daily mood rating between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve 2010.

Now we can see what holiday depression looks like from the charted results in the graphic above.

I have to admit that after looking at the data, I found the collective mood transition to be most interesting. I was expecting to see the average mood rating to be consistently low, with some minor fluctuations. But what we find is a Thanksgiving high followed almost immediately by the largest dip during the sample period, coinciding with the beginning of December. Then, as the month goes on the average mood gradually climbs up until it reaches its tallest peak of the sample period on Christmas day. The difference between peak and valley across the entire time span was .65 on a scale of 1-10, or 6.5%.

Is this what you expected holiday depression to look like, and what are some possible explanations?

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  • fran melmed says:

    my totally uneducated guess? we’re happiest at the moments with family – thanksgiving & christmas. (hanukkah spikes, too, but smaller, which possibly represents the total percentage of individuals who celebrate it among your users.) we’re most unhappy when we transition from thanksgiving into the pre-holiday preparation frenzy that makes a lot of people anxious, stressed and depressed. thoughts?


    • Bob Merberg says:

      Fran (‘magine meeting you here!): I like your not-so-”uneducated” guess. I’ll have to look more at this fascinating report and infographic, but I intuitively agree with you about anxiety, stress, and depression being linked to pre-holiday preparation frenzy. Interestingly, when I’ve seen large groups (in stress management programs) asked what they do to relax, more than 50% of the women list “shopping” first. That, and the other common response — TV watching — makes me wonder (perhaps with some elitism?) whether people really know what relaxation feels like!

      I’m not as sold on the idea that people are happiest during holiday time spent with family. Very individual, but I’m not sure which experience is most common. I hear from a lot of people that time with family (incl. in-laws) is a significant source of stress. Maybe nuclear family -> happiness, but extended family is less likely to?

      Kudos to Chris Hall for presenting this fascinating work!

      • Chris says:


        Thank you for the compliment. It was fun putting this together. :)

        I agree from experience that time spent with family (read locked in a confined space together) can be extremely stressful. What we didn’t account for in the data was just how random holiday family time can be depending on the year and “who’s turn it is” to get together. My wife and kids made the trek from Louisville to Dallas to congregate at my brother’s house for Christmas in 2009, which was very stressful for me because we were road tripping it with small children and the room we all crammed up in wasn’t very warm at night. Being with family was great, but it was hard to ignore my personal challenges. :)

        This year we decided we were just going to stay home and celebrate with our immediate family which took a lot of the stress out of my holiday season. In years past, we’ve filled our own house with people, which was also very stressful for me.

        I think it would be interesting to be able to trend, over time, the effects that these very different holiday experiences have on us individually.

        • fran melmed says:

          ok, bob and chris…i can’t resist. here’s the short version of my thanksgiving with the in-laws. fly down on wed, catch a virus from the nephew on thurs, first person felled with a stomach virus friday at 3 AM. three of the four of us spent saturday on the couch until we flew home on sunday, which is when the last in our party fell victim, too.

          it was awful! but it’s so ridiculous, it’s funny in the retelling. so, who knows what actually caused that bump — stories like chris’ or people with my absurd sense of humor.

          it would be interesting to track over time and see what nets out.


    • Chris says:


      I like your theory and think that it matches with the visualization. Seeing the data definitely challenges assumptions, eh?

  • Chris Hogg says:

    Hi Chris,

    Really nice idea for an analysis and visualization. Now that you have the data, i think the fun thing is to torture it a little. If your hypothesis is that mood will decrease (or simply change), on average, during the holidays, have you looked at the average mood score for the preceding month and for January, and compare these averages to December to see if they are ‘different’. I would guess that for some people, December would be higher (they like holidays / family) and for some, December will be markedly decreased (i.e. if the holidays make them remember someone they have lost). You could also try to break these groups out to see if there really are two distinct groups: increasers and decreasers. If that is true, it would be cool to note the decreaser group. I think this would be a great group for a little digital love/support come next November / December!

    Keep up the great work,

  • Dr. Susannah says:

    I like the whole idea of Mood24/7 (as you know) and think this is a very cool trend to follow. A researcher’s dream, however I would point out that this is a cultural snapshot. Christmas is technically illegal in Kuwait. =)

    If only I could use Mood24/7 here, I’d definitely test out the family/mood connection, which can be done without regard to holidays.

    Personally, I found the holiday shopping/preparation stressful, loved the time with family, and generally experienced my low when the festivities were over because that meant saying goodbye.

    Professionally, I am in agreement with Bob – “relaxation” has morphed into something totally different than it used to be, and isn’t really all that “relaxing” anymore! lol

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