Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Our Emotional Calendar

Our yard is covered in leaves at the moment, and it triggers for me the memories of raking piles of them into play centers. After we tumbled around in the pliant, colourful bounty, we would ignite a tiny fire and watch the acrid smoke curling up into the red cheeked air.

A new book by psychiatrist John Sharp entitled The Emotional Calendar: Understanding Seasonal Influences and Milestones to Become Happier, More Fulfilled and in Control of Your Life says in an interview that people have all kinds of associations like this to affect their attitudes and moods of the season.

In addition to the physical influences – the reduction of light that contributes to the so-called winter blues – there are cultural ones (the expectation that Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays are meant to be happy times when in fact they can be fraught with emotional turmoil) and, perhaps most important and least recognized, personal experience.

“Each person has a unique emotional calendar,” says Dr. Sharp, a faculty member at Harvard University’s medical school as well as a lecturer at the University of California. “It could be that you fell in love at a certain time of the year and you’re always reminded of it when it comes around again, or maybe you suffered a terrible loss in the fall and so that time is always associated with dread and anxiety.”

'Smells, in particular, can trigger whole scenes from the past because the olfactory nerve has the ability to locate memories throughout the brain, Dr. Sharp says. “And the seasons have very specific scents,” he says. “The smell of the earth after a spring shower is so unique and emotionally powerful that it has a scientific term – petrichor.” There’s the smell of a barbecue, of freshly mown grass, of snow and wet woolen mittens.'

The review encourages one to think about the changing seasons and the various holidays which affect us in positive or negative ways depending upon our previous experiences.