The “Santa Claus Effect” – positive or negative? (two viewpoints)

Here’s the abstract of a 2017 study by Professor Brendan Kelly, Consultant Psychiatrist at Tallaght Hospital, School of Medicine, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.

Background: Christmas “is the season to be jolly” but, despite many recent studies of happiness and wellbeing, the population distribution of jollity is unknown.

Aims: To assess levels of jollity across Europe, hypothesising the existence of a “Santa Claus effect” whereby Mr. Claus, a long-established resident of Scandinavia, increases jollity through his social network.

Methods: Cross-sectional analysis of data from 37 966 participants in the European Society Survey (Round 7, 2014/2015) across 21 European countries.

Results: Jollity has independent associations with satisfaction with health and income, male gender, younger age, and country of residence. Each one-point increase in satisfaction with health (on a 5-point scale) corresponds to a 0.79-point increase in jollity (23-point scale); each one-point increase in satisfaction with income (4-point scale) corresponds to a 0.76-point increase in jollity. Switzerland is the jolliest country in Europe.

Conclusions: The jolliest European is likely to be a young Swiss male who is satisfied with his income and health. If there is a Santa Claus effect acting to increase jollity, it probably acts not just in Scandinavia but across Mr. Claus’s broad network of contacts and admirers in many countries.

See: Exploring and explaining the “Santa Claus effect”: cross-sectional study of jollity in 21 European countries, Journal of Mental Health, Volume 26, 2017 – Issue 6.

Where there is an opinion, however, there is always the possibility that there will be a counter-opinion. And in this case the possibility has turned into a documented reality. Because Professor Shaun O’Keefe of the Department of Geriatric Medicine, Galway University Hospitals, Galway, Ireland, protests – saying that :

“ I must protest his entirely one-sided portrait of Santa Claus and his comment on the ‘ubiquity of jollity at Christmas’. Santa may well be ‘‘very, very jolly’’ but this is on the back of his mistreatment and exploitation of elves and reindeers. Christmas generally leads to a decline in mood and in life satisfaction (Mutz, 2016; Sansone & Sansone, 2011). Furthermore, a quick Google search for jollity (5 September 2017) produces ‘‘about 1,270,000 results’’, many of them indeed referring to Christmas. However, the results total plummets to 438,000 when the search is repeated after excluding sites that also have the words ‘‘forced’’, ‘‘fake’’ or ‘‘false’’.


I suggest that the ‘‘Santa Claus’’ effect on true jollity is a negative one and that this is unsurprising if one is likely to be accosted by a disturbing character given to using the downright sinister ‘‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’’ as a greeting who plans to enter your home without permission in a most unorthodox way (Davis, 2012).”

See: Jollity and the “Santa Claus” effect: bah humbug? Journal of Mental Health, Volume 27, 2018 – Issue 2.

Research research by Martin Gardiner