Janet Sheridan: The summer solstice
June 11, 2015
I greet both the summer and winter solstice with enthusiasm, but for different reasons. December's winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, motivates me to reflect, lose myself in memories, and appreciate the quiet pleasures of home and family. The summer solstice on the longest day of the year in June beckons me outdoors, fills me with energy, makes me feel happy and alive.
I thought I smiled nonstop in June because I liked planting flowers in my yard, watching birds bustle, hiking mountains scented by warm pine, and eating copious amounts of summer food. Then I read the results of a study and learned that increased daylight makes me happy in the summertime, not watermelon.
The researchers randomly selected and studied four hundred tweets sent by each of 2.4 million people over a two-year period. They hoped to discover whether the number of positive emotions expressed by the tweeters varied from season to season as daylight increased or waned.
I stopped reading at this point, distracted by the thought of so many tweeters tweeting so many tweets and wondering where they found the time for all that twittering. Then, deciding it was a cultural phenomenon beyond my comprehension, I returned to the study.
The researchers discovered that when daylight increased, however slightly, from one day to the next, as it does during the months-long approach to the summer solstice, the study's subjects expressed a significantly higher number of positive feelings in their tweets. So when the solstice arrives on June 21 this year, we will have enjoyed a six-month growth spurt of happiness. No wonder I feel perky.
The summer solstice also creates a problem, however, which I fear is unique to me: bedtime anxiety.
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When I left home for college, I began going to bed later and later, a trend that lasted for decades. As others slept, I made merry: reading, snacking, watching TV, painting my toenails, and agreeing with myself.
But as I moved into my 50s, my night-owl status began to wane. By the time I retired, I celebrated my birthday by blowing out too many candles, eating too much cake, and yearning for my cozy bed. I told myself that going to bed as soon as it was dark was permissible, as long as I didn't make a habit of it.
With that thought, I stepped onto a slippery slope that I soon tobogganed down at breakneck speed. Currently, I go to bed anytime after I've digested dinner and darkness has fallen, a habit made difficult by the summer solstice when darkness never seems to fall.
I can't go to bed before the world is fully dark. The very idea embarrasses and worries me: What would the neighbors think if they noticed me creeping off to bed before the sun is down and out? Might they report me to the authorities for a welfare check?
So, during the weeks leading up to and following the solstice, I force myself to stay conscious until nighttime establishes itself, a task neither easy nor pretty: I yawn and fidget. My head lolls and jerks. My mind disconnects, and I splutter.
But I have to weigh this unladylike behavior against the possibility of my neighbors' incredulity and my embarrassment at lying in bed while toddlers play in wading pools; children shriek from trampolines; teenagers roam the streets in packs; and adults converse on patios: all of them smiling, laughing, and making positive comments as the summer solstice approaches.
Sheridan's book, "A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns," is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.