Once again it’s getting closer and closer to that time of year. It’s finally December so we can start to get properly excited about Christmas and everything it brings with it (most importantly the food, the best thing about the holiday season). But after the Christmas season comes New Year’s Eve. The night that everyone buzzes about, the one that films, TV and seasonal adverts have always suggested is possibly the single best night of the year. Only it isn’t. It never is. You wake up either hungover, let-down by the night before, or disappointed that the day feels absolutely no different to the rest of the 365/6 days in the year, despite all the hype. And luckily science has the explanation for why it really is that terrible.
New Year being rubbish isn’t just a trope that we roll out to make excuses for a bad night. University College London researched into the disappointment in 2014 and their psychologists uncovered that our moment-to-moment mental happiness depends massively on our expectations. This isn’t particularly surprising given the general disappointment we have when we are let-down by something, but they created a formula explaining how happiness is dependent on various factors. It takes into account the event, how important or significant the event is, and when the event occurred. Their work found that it is our own expectations that often ruins the night and thanks to the media there’s no expectation higher than New Year.
Our own expectations often ruins the night and thanks to the media there’s no expectation higher than New Year
Usually a night out on New Year’s Eve involves overpriced drinks, people crying, and the standard ‘I’ll see you next year’ jokes that seem to never get old for some people. On top of this there’s the impending pressure of New Year’s resolutions and having to tell everyone who asks what you’re planning to do in the coming year when most of the time you are fully aware that your resolutions will fail two-thirds of the way into January.
UCL’s attempt at explaining it all isn’t the first study into the disappointment of New Year, as they were building on the work of three American scientists, Schooler, Ariely, and Lowenstein, undertaken in 1999. It was shown that 83% of the subjects who took part in the study said afterwards they had been disappointed by their New Year’s Eve. The American study suggested that in order to have a good New Year you shouldn’t plan it and those who are overly concerned with having a good time tend to ruin it for themselves. Instead spontaneity is key. So it isn’t New Year that is rubbish, it’s our need to plan it all out. We spend so long monitoring the night and being concerned about everything going right that we actually forget to enjoy ourselves. Spontaneous plans are always better and given the high expectations of New Year’s Eve, that rule is even more relevant.
But this may all sound a little cynical, as not everyone has a rubbish time. Sometimes it really is the best night of the year, and the commercialised excitement that we get invested into pays off. And for those of us who don’t have that experience, the solution to our terrible New Year events has been provided. The results of the study in 1999 demonstrate that the combination of higher expectations, more money being spent, and more being effort put in equals higher levels of disappointment. So this New Year, invite your friends round last minute, keep expectations low and have the best night ever. And on the bright side, even if this New Year’s Eve is rubbish, at least we’ll be leaving 2016 behind.