A shock to the system: Spring has finally sprung
It’s been a long, cold winter and a very wintry spring. But suddenly Mother Nature has let her sun shine. It’s time for shorts, cookouts and, of course, the Terrace.
It can be a sudden shock to the system. How do we cope with the abrupt joy of spring after such a relentless winter?
Christine Whelan, a clinical professor of consumer science in the School of Human Ecology, teaches a class called Consuming Happiness that focuses on well-being. Just last week, she was interviewed for a story on how to cope with an endless winter, so naturally she has some thoughts on spring.
“In the psychology of attraction, there’s an idea called the gain-loss effect that describes how if someone initially doesn’t like us, and then changes their mind and falls in love with us, we are even more attracted to them than if they’d liked us all along,” Whelan says. “Gaining in someone’s estimation makes us feel that much more loved when the good times come.”
So it’s like a relationship, Whelan says. A very complicated relationship.
“It’s been a rough ride for a while. It seems like Mother Nature isn’t really showing us the love,” Whelan says. “But now … wow … it’s getting warm, the sun is shining and the long-term forecast shows that perhaps she really does love us after all. Now we’re all the more grateful for the warmth of the sun’s rays and the happy weather.”
But can we trust it? We’ve been burned before. Is it really OK to put our boots away and get out sandals? Can we spend time in the garden instead of time snowblowing?
“The rule of thumb here in Madison is don’t plant anything until after Mother’s Day. So let’s exercise a bit of caution in these early stages of our romance with warm weather and sunshine,” Whelan says. “Take it slow. It’s OK to show some leg and get those shorts out. But now is not the time for full-on commitments of planting flowers and putting all your sweaters in the attic.”
Is it natural to feel confused? It’s in the 60s this week. And next week, the forecast calls for the 70s. This is a whole lot of sunshine.
“We always want what we can’t have — and for months, we’ve wanted sunshine and warm weather. Now that we have it, though, there’s a bit of pressure to enjoy every moment,” Whelan says. “Last night I took a long walk that completely threw off my plans for the evening, but I just had to be outside.”
Just last week, many of us were helping neighbors shovel or pushing out the occasional car stuck in the snow. What do we do now?
“I recommend taking a walk and looking around. Everywhere you see hopeful little buds coming up out of the ground. That hope of spring and new life gives us hope for new beginnings in our life. And hope has a very powerful psychological and behavioral effect on us,” Whelan says.
Hope springs eternal. And in this case, the hope that spring offers can impact other parts of our lives.
“Research has found that having hope makes it more likely that we will achieve our goals. It boosts our sense of self-efficacy — the ability to achieve goals that matter to us — and gives us a boost of energy,” Whelan says. “So that itch to start a new project or spring-clean your house? In part, it’s Mother Nature’s gift to us in the form of hope for new beginnings in spring.”