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The Seasonality of Self
March 7th, 2011

To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.

- 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.

13 Responses to “The Seasonality of Self”

  1. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    Tosh.O is the funniest damn show in the universe.

    I’ve said that thing about needing seasons dozens and dozens of times. I feel just like you do.

    Although can I campaign for a shorter winter? Take off about 3 months and give it to Autumn.

  2. Gale Says:

    Kitch – I’ll join your campaign for a shorter winter. Autumn never does seem to last long enough!

  3. Anne Says:

    Your sister is so wise.
    Anyway, I hear you on the seasons…I’ve always felt the same way. Which is why it’s odd for me to live in a place now where the seasons are far less varied. While we do get 4 seasons in the Northwest, spring and autumn are often overshadowed by the dry, warm intensity of summer and the soggy deluge of winter. Spring and fall exist, but are very fleeting. What I’ve come to enjoy is looking to other markers of the seasons besides the weather. And I wonder if this is how people in LA do it? They don’t look forward to hooded sweatshirts or sandals, but they might look forward to Christmas decorations or Easter egg displays. I look forward to things like “fishing season” now, instead of just the change in my wardrobe.

    With all that said, I really miss two main things about the seasons in the midwest: Autumn, and summer storms. And I’m pretty sure I always will.

  4. Gale Says:

    Anne – Yes, she is wise… :)

    Midwest thunderstorms really are the best. When I moved back to this part of the country after a year in Colorado I remember feeling so relaxed and refreshed by the sights, sounds, and smells of a huge storm. There’s really nothing like it.

  5. Ana Says:

    Maybe there really is individual variability to this. I get a lot of happiness from anticipation and change…I am so glad I moved to a place with 4 seasons (from a place with only 2….damn hot & not-so-damn hot). I am giddy right now with the anticipation of spring, knowing full well that 6 months from now I’ll be pining for autumn. For me, looking forward to something new is a huge part of my enjoyment of it, but I know people who prefer to live completely in the here-and-now, and would probably appreciate sunny warmth every day of their lives.

  6. Gale Says:

    Ana – I like this idea that some people who are more of the “carpe diem” variety might want “perfect” weather all the time, and that others of us who spend time contemplating the future like to have something to anticipate. I think another component for me is that I like some variety in my “perfect day.” There is the perfect day for the pool – hot and sunny. The perfect day for a picnic – warm with a few scattered puffy clouds. The perfect day for curling up with a book – stormy. The perfect day for watching football – chilly and windy. And the perfect day for a movie marathon with lots of hot chocolate – heavy snow. I’m sure some people would, but I wouldn’t want every day to be pool weather. I like having seasons that set the perfect backdrop for lots of different activities.

  7. BigLittleWolf Says:

    There is something simultaneously exhilarating and soothing about the transitioning seasons. About the constancy of change they represent.

    I prefer warm seasons, but having lived in many places, I’ve always chosen to put down roots – even temporarily – where some seasonal change exists. I find that I miss it, terribly, when I don’t have the cycle of spring, summer, winter, and fall.

  8. Cathy Says:

    I like your sister’s saying. Very true indeed! I think there is some truth to the emotional calendars. When Fall hits, even though it is by far my favorite time of year, I start to become more and more depressed as I head into the holiday season. I know it’s because I associate that with the death of my grandfather and mother who both passed in January. And now my Uncle passed a week before Thanksgiving. There’s no hope for me!

  9. Eva Evolving Says:

    Right now, Spring Fever is reaching a pitch for me. So much snow still on the ground, more flurries today – but I still hold out hope for 40s next week and the glorious spring melt!

    But even though I’m pretty much over winter, I do find a joy and comfort in the changing seasons. I love the rhythm to the seasons. Just when you can’t take any more of one season, Mother Nature shifts gears. And each year you get the wonder of re-discovering the seasons. There’s something magical about the first snowfall each year. The crunch of leaves in fall, as you mentioned – or the crunchy squeak of snow on really cold days! The first hints of green the spring. And the heat of summer.

    The distinct seasons are one of the reasons I love Minnesota (yes, we get hot sun and 90s in the summer!). And as we visited family in Oregon in December, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness to be missing a White Christmas.

    I also find that seasons – and weather more broadly – has a great impact on my mood. We can’t help but be impacted by our environment, so we may as well embrace it.

  10. Eva Evolving Says:

    PS – Have I mentioned how much I love that new photo of you on the main TDT page?

  11. Gale Says:

    Eva – I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who feels this way about the seasons. Even if it isn’t biologically based, I think it’s pretty universal. Also, thanks for the compliment on the photo. We had family photos taken last fall and this is a cropped version of one of the group shots.

  12. Heather Says:

    I too feel the need for seasons. I lived in Seattle for a time and it wasn’t the rain that got me, it was the fact that there is not much of a change in seasons.

  13. Gale Says:

    Heather – I totally understand. I sometimes pine for places like San Diego, but I wonder if I would love it as much year round as I do in short visits. There’s something about the cyclical nature of seasons that I really like.