The Seasonality of Self March 7th, 2011
- George Santayana, Reason and Art
Spring is not yet here. Try as I might to will that it be so, I have no such powers. So as I twiddle my thumbs until mid-April finally arrives, I am prone to consider why it is that I get so itchy about the seasons this time of year.
I love experiencing seasons. Even more so I love the change of seasons. I love the feeling of anticipation (and even sometimes the frustration) that builds this time of year when I’ve long since quenched my desire for jeans and hooded sweatshirts and I yearn for sandals and sundresses. I love knowing that something lovely is on the horizon. Something about the change itself – not just what’s on the other side of that change – excites me.
I’ve long believed (based on nothing but my own certitude) that as human beings we have some emotional need for seasons; that there’s something in our biorhythms that demands the cyclical nature of our seasons. Some amateur internet sleuthing on this topic quickly disappointed me. Our seasons have nothing to do with anything but the tilt of the earth’s access. And we don’t technically need them for any emotional purpose. People who evolved in cultures located at the equator have no innate knowledge of seasons and don’t “need” winter, spring, or fall any more than I “need” the 365 days of sunshine per year that they have.
Apparently it’s all in my head.
Comedian Daniel Tosh understands this. He does a bit in his stand-up routine (which you can catch occasionally on Comedy Central) that pokes fun at people like me. To paraphrase:
Why wouldn’t anyone want to live in LA? I don’t get those people who say, “Oh, I could never live in LA. I just need seasons too much. I could never live in a place that didn’t have seasons.” Well, to them I say, “I love seasons too. That’s why I live in a place that skips all the crappy ones.”
That line about needing seasons? I’ve said it a few hundred times in my life. And I know many people who share my sentiments. There is a chance that my “I need seasons” hang-up is just my way of justifying why I continue to live in a place where winter is cold and crappy, and summer is hot and humid. But I’ve known more than a few people who moved to milder climates and hated it because they could no longer experience the changing seasons.
So what is it then about our human nature that causes us to crave these changes? If it isn’t biological must it be learned?
Harvard and UCLA psychiatrist John Sharp’s book The Emotional Calendar delves into this question. And while I haven’t read the book in full, the synopsis of it that I have read nevertheless intrigues me. Sharp asserts that numerous factors – seasons being chief among them - influence our “emotional calendars.” He also points out that when our emotions don’t correspond with the traditional feelings associated with a season we experience an unpleasant dissonance. But they are the emotional markers – personal experiences that are forever tied to a time of year – that are the greatest influencers of our relationship to any particular season.
For me, though, the seasons themselves still hold meaning. Something about the smell of a hyacinth blossom or the crunch of fallen leaves under my feet keeps me tuned into the passage of time. I like that each month feels different than the one that precedes or follows it. I like the feelings of anticipation at the start of a season, and the feelings of relief at the end.
Sometimes research backs me up and sometimes it doesn’t. But, as my sister is fond of pointing out, some things don’t have to be fact in order to be true.