Making Good Health Simple: Obsessed with Hallmark movies? There may be a biological reason for that

This image released by Crown Media United States LLC shows Danica McKellar, left, and Dolly Parton in a scene from "Christmas at Dollywood," airing Dec. 8 on the Hallmark Channel. (Curtis Hilbun/Crown Media United States LLC via AP) Curtis Hilbun

I watch Hallmark movies.

I watch all of them.

I watch them obsessively.

Last week I watched one from 2015. Didn’t care that I’ve seen it at least five other times. Still watched it until the end. I don’t watch them for the Academy Award-winning acting, or the predictable and typically unrealistic plots. I watch them because they make me happy.

I have the Hallmark movies app downloaded on my phone. It is level 10 rewarding to be able to tap the box that says “watched” as I complete each one. I even DVR some, too. My entire family legitimately makes fun of me. Sometimes they will even leave the room if a Hallmark movie is on. But I am fearless in my pursuit to complete my checkmark for the new 24 movies out this season.

Is there a biological explanation for my love of all things Hallmark? For my OCD-like behavior around these movies? There has to be. According to Pamela Rutledge, behavioral scientist, director of the Media Psychology Research Center and Media Psychology faculty at Fielding Graduate University, the reliable Hallmark holiday movie plot formula takes us on an emotional journey that can be especially beneficial during the stress of the season — which keeps us coming back for more.

The truth is in every movie there is something that resonates with me. It might remind me of an experience I had during a Christmas in the past, maybe something I’d like to incorporate into my family’s traditions or possibly something completely unrealistic yet ridiculously Chritsmasy and perfect. From the way they seamlessly frost their sugar cookies in their ruffly aprons, to the way they decorate the outside of their homes in magazine-worthy lights, even their complete over-the-top Christmas floats they make in 13 minutes. I love all of it.

Before you decide to make fun of me too, I have some science to back up my Hallmark-crazed mission.

“The human brain loves patterns and the predictability is cognitively rewarding,” Rutledge said. “Those predictable story arcs that draw on the standard patterns we recognize from fairytales offer comfort by presenting life as simple and moralistic.” This allows us to have a brief reprieve from the hectic nature of the holiday season.

Wondering why everyone is willing to watch them despite their lack of special effects and dazzling storylines?

“The lack of reality at all levels, from plot to production, signals that the movies are meant to be escapism entertainment,” Rutledge said. “The genre is well-defined, and our expectations follow. This enables us to suspend disbelief.”

Why do we or should we care about “suspended disbelief?”

“While few of us are going to switch places with a doppelgänger, save Christmas for ourselves or someone else, marry a prince/princess, fall for a person who turns out to be a billionaire or find true love in the span of an hour, (Hallmark movies) still allow us to experience the emotions associated with social validation, the yearning for connection, compassion and empathy,” Rutledge said. “The movies provide simplistic solutions to all those stressors that the holidays can bring: family conflict, isolation or financial pressures.”

Here’s the bottom line – In the middle of trying to juggle a family, a business and a pseudo-social life, it is next to impossible to have a break. Literally. Someone always needs something. I am obsessed with the idea that I can come home and turn on a channel that has absolutely no stress. The characters are always nice, never cunning. They genuinely want to help and are kind (and flawlessly coiffed). Why wouldn’t I want that in the background while I am cooking or working on my computer? (Side note: Have you seen the news lately? It’s horrible, sad and overall depressing. I prefer to read my news without all the bells and whistles of dramatic tones and voice inflections).

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, these movies are filled with inspiration and positive messaging. Since they all have a happy ending, it gives me hope that everything will turn out okay.

If you seriously have never watched one, it’s worth perusing the movie guide to see which movie might pull at your heartstrings or the nostalgia of your childhood Christmases. I give my highest recommendations of watching these movies, as it improves your mood, lets your mind relax and sometimes well up with tears.

(Crystal Reynolds is an owner at 43 Degrees North Athletic Club.)

Author: Crystal Reynolds

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