Ever get the feeling you’re just happier during autumn?
You’re not alone.
According to a survey of 2,000 Americans, 56 percent said they were happier in autumn than any other time of year — and this was conducted in the middle of the pandemic.
At surface level, it seems counterintuitive. How does autumn compete with spring or summer?
It’s cold — often rainy — and it reminds us that winter is coming. We have to go back to boring school or our boring jobs after a much-needed vacation. Also, because of the holidays and traveling, money is often tight.
There are upsides, for sure.
The cool, crisp air; the food and drinks; in America and Canada, Thanksgiving — also in America and Canada, football and hockey seasons.
Traditional autumn fashion is also better than the stuff people wear at other times of the year.
Then, there are the leaves.
Growing up in Florida, that didn’t mean much. Leaves turned from bright green in September to a boring brown by November.
In most places, though, autumn produces something on this spectrum:
Some believe people like autumn more than other seasons because it represents predictable change — almost like a second January. The changing natural world is an experienced inevitability. Unlike physical aging, we know it’s only temporary.
Other experts believe people like autumn because it gets them back into a fresh routine. Most kids enjoy school more right after coming back from summer vacation.
That brings us to a third reason experts claim people like autumn: conditioning.
Nostalgia plays a role here. Even if we didn’t take a vacation, the memory of past autumns — the reminder of good times when we were young and in school — makes us wish this season would never end.
Kathryn Lively, professor of sociology at Dartmouth, told The Huffington Post:
We’re conditioned from a very early age that the autumn comes with all these exciting things. As children, we come to associate fall with going back to school, new school supplies, seeing friends. It’s exciting, for most. We still respond to this pattern that we experienced for eighteen years.
These are known as “temporal landmarks,” much like Labor Day, Fall Break (in some states), Halloween, and Thanksgiving.
But other seasons also offer predictable changes. True, autumn is unique in the routine-starting department. But with Christmas, winter break, spring break, Easter, summer break, etc. — other seasons also have their temporal landmarks.
Autumn carries special meaning to most people because hundreds of years ago, it was harvest season.
Today, some common crops harvested in autumn include pumpkins, turnips, carrots, apples, broccoli, squash, green beans, zucchini, beets, eggplant, celery, cranberries, grapes, pears, and pomegranates.
The Pilgrims did not invent a new autumn holiday at Plymouth. They’d been observing Harvest Home in England for hundreds of years to celebrate the harvest.
In primitive agricultural societies long, long ago, harvesting the spring and summer crops meant families would have enough food to make it through winter. It also provided a chance for people to mingle with neighbors and break from the backbreaking existence that most people led to maintain a subsistence survival.
The communal festivities — including singing, dancing, and decorating — which accompanied this time of year — made the grueling work in the spring and summer worth it.
We haven’t lived in a primarily agricultural society for more than a century. But today, we carry on many of these traditions in the ways we look forward to and celebrate holidays during autumn. Even the anticipation and conditioned enjoyment of autumn itself is something our ancestors passed down.
Four centuries ago, they got excited about harvesting enough beans and carrots to make it through the winter. Today, we get excited about sipping hot chocolate and eating pumpkin pie during weekend vacations in golden leaf-covered mountains.
I would say not to waste time inside this autumn and enjoy the sweater weather. But staying inside with friends and family over hot drinks and watching it get dark sooner is part of the season’s charm. Even though most of us don’t farm for a living, it reminds us to sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labors.
Originally published on Medium