Growing up, I couldn’t help but feel I had been lied to about the magic of New Year’s Eve.
Everyone probably has a similar vision of the perfect New Year’s midnight. Confetti falling through the air, a countdown in a crowded room, and an exceptionally handsome man with whom to share your New Year’s kiss.
Except… has anyone ever had that actually happen? I’d love to attend a party like the one at the end of When Harry Met Sally, complete with the romantic confession. But the reality of New Year’s is that it’s not usually exciting. In my experience, it’s a letdown.
My best friend thinks I’m a grump for feeling this way – New Year’s is her favorite holiday of the year – so I hopped on Google to see if I really am the one-and-only Grinch Before New Year’s. Turns out, it’s pretty common to feel disappointed by what’s supposed to be the most fun night of the year. Here’s why.
Your Expectations Are Too High
Everything sets you up to have high expectations for the night. Your friends, desperate to get you to come out, will convince you that it will be the best night of your life, and you’ll totally run into a handsome hunk for that NYE kiss! Some of your favorite movies have probably reinforced, if not the expectation, then the hope that perhaps New Year’s is a little more magical than every other night.
Expectations feed into the reward center of your brain. Professor Wolfram Schultz studies the link between dopamine and reward circuitry in the brain at Cambridge University in England. Dopamine cells are located deep inside your brain and begin to fire off in anticipation of rewards. If your brain thinks you’re about to receive a reward, it releases dopamine. And you get an even bigger hit if the reward is unexpected. Yay!
But here’s the downside. If you’re expecting a reward and don’t get it, your dopamine levels crash. The feeling can be pretty unpleasant and can even feel like physical pain.
Most of the time, our reward system is dealing with tiny disappointments, not a big crash. But no matter how hard you try, it’s hard not to get amped up before going out on New Year’s Eve. The bigger the expectation, the bigger the disappointment when it isn’t met. The problem with real life is that no matter how great your night is, it will never live up to the fantasy you have in your head. So the more excited you are, the more likely you’ll feel let down by the end of the night.
You’re Trying Too Hard
The sister of high expectations is, you guessed it, trying too hard to have a good time. Once again, you’re feeling the pressure to have the greatest night of your life!! Unfortunately, science shows that the harder you try to feel happy, the less likely you are to feel that way. Irony is a cruel mistress.
A study from MIT proved this paradoxical phenomenon. The researchers wanted to see what would make participants happier when they listened to music, so they instructed half of the group to try to feel as happy as possible, while the others were asked to just listen to the music. Afterward they asked each group how they felt. The group who just listened to the music were happier than they were before. But those who had been focused on feeling happy not only weren’t happier than they’d been before, they were actually less happy.
You see, seeking happiness may be a self-defeating goal. The more you try to have a great, once-in-a-lifetime evening, the less likely you are to have it! Or feel like you’re having it at least.
What isn’t expensive on New Year’s Eve? Ignoring the inflation that’s making everything more expensive this year, prices on everything from dining to alcohol to Uber rides can as much as double on New Year’s Eve! Uber is estimating prices might even surge to 3x or 4x their normal levels on the holiday.
Then you’ve got the brand new dress (that you’ll only wear once, because let’s face it, how many parties each year are you attending where a sparkly club dress is appropriate attire), those new trendy heels, and a premium blowout so your hair is picture perfect.
Even if your expectations are firmly set at realistic, it’s hard not to feel disappointed by an evening that’s costing twice or three times as much as normal. After all, shouldn’t twice as expensive mean twice as fun? Unfortunately, we all know the answer is no.
High prices, coupled with crowds competing for everything from Uber rides to a table at the hot new club, might leave you wishing you’d just opted to stay at home.
Is That It?!
You’re right, this might appear to be one of the most depressing articles you’ve read about New Year’s Eve. But it doesn’t have to be so bad. Try not to buy into pressure to have the best night ever and just plan something fun with friends or your SO. Some of my favorite New Year’s Eves were ones spent at a romantic but quiet bar with my husband or curled up next to the fire with a cup of New Year’s hot chocolate.
Here are a few suggestions for how to have a New Year’s Eve you’ll actually enjoy this year:
1. Don’t do anything extravagant.
The less extravagant or out-there your plans, the less likely you’ll feel the need to live up to them. Plan something at a familiar haunt or at home. Have fun getting dressed up but don’t go overboard with the newest, fanciest dress in your closet.
2. Don’t expect anything special to happen.
I know the temptation as a single girl to believe that tonight is the night! You’re going to meet that handsome guy at whatever party, he’ll see you from across the room, and it will be the beginning of your great love story. But realistically, it’s probably not going to happen.
Remember how unexpected rewards gave the biggest hit? Save yourself the heartache of disappointment and set your expectations a little lower than they should be. That way, when things turn out to be more fun than you thought, you’ll get that extra little boost.
3. Start a tradition (or two).
We love holidays like Christmas because the traditions we share with our families create a sense of belonging and love. Bring some of that same magic into the new year by creating a special tradition just for New Year’s Eve.
Maybe you pick a favorite New Year’s film and watch it each year, timing it perfectly so the party scene lines up with midnight. Perhaps you hit the local 24-hour diner and enjoy some midnight pancakes after the clock strikes twelve.
Whatever you do, remember that in the end, New Year's Eve is just another day. You'll probably wake up feeling exactly as you did the day before (unless you've got a hangover of course.) So lighten up, try not to set your expectations too high, and enjoy the end of 2021!