At first glance, autumn can simply seem to be a beautiful season, devoid of the excitement evoked by its predecessor. The languor of summer melts away and we are thrust into the fast-paced nature of the upcoming months before it topples into the new year. However, this period presents a moment for reflection and introspection as we lavishly watch nature decay, leaving behind individuals with an increased affection for the fall.
Perhaps our infatuation stems from the subtle chill that helps us recover from the scorching kiss of summer or the fact that autumn is rife with new possibilities that come alive in the transition of the seasons. Perhaps it is because of the beauty of autumn, when the earth morphs into a blanket of red and brown hues, in a perpetual mirror of the moment when the sun is on the precipice of the horizon aching to rest. It is quiet and caring, ignorant to the gaping maw of the blackbird. We are imbued with passion and we feel born anew in the midst of unending change.
Is there a certain predisposition? Are we inclined to feel this way because of childhood?
When the night comes earlier and staves off the day, people find themselves clinging to the traditions that bring them comfort: apple picking, trips to the pumpkin patch and jumping into patches of leaves. This duality of nostalgia and coziness influences the perception of autumn. The need for the sensations that come from these cooler temperatures is deeply ingrained within us. Amy Jane Griffiths, Ph.D., N.C.S.P, educator and licensed psychologist, says that “We all crave the comfort and security that comes with traditions and predictability.”
People also engage in experiences that allow them to be closer to others, which furthers the comfort of the season. For many, there is an association of increased time with family. Autumn is rife with events that are built to invoke feelings of belonging and safety. Because of the pandemic, there is an increased human need for these sensations to be wrapped in the brisk chill, soothed by the elation that autumn brings.
If the comfort does not satisfy the soul, then we can find solace in the fact that it is socially acceptable to lay the past to rest. Autumn’s association with new beginnings is because of its standing as a temporal landmark.
Temporal landmarks are defined as things that “stand in marked contrast to the seemingly unending stream of trivial and ordinary occurrences that happen to us every day.” According to Wilson and Ross (2003), many events in life — extraordinary and mundane –– can cause an individual to distance themselves from their past and affect feelings of subjective distance from past episodes.
The transition from summer to autumn can induce feelings of a psychological separation between past and present which allows people to absolve themselves of previous shortcomings or failures and focus on their newly established goals. This newfound aspirational behavior is exacerbated by the dwindling year. People are now looking at the whole board as opposed to a singular instance, becoming more goal-oriented in the process. The “Fresh Start Effect” was written by Katherine Milkman, explains the exuberance that people experience during this time of year alters the decision-making process and the desirability of the rewards of a completed action.
But the long, winter nights can steal motivation from our unsuspecting bodies and we find that the dark-quilted sky bears an eerie resemblance to the blackbird. Instead of viewing this time as a period of new birth, some people find themselves anxious for the dwindling year, causing their mental health to decline.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, 5% of adults in America experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which lasts 40% of the year, causing them to dread autumn as it signifies the period before their SAD becomes more intense and prolonged. Kathryn Roeklein, Ph.D. says, “signs of the seasons changing are an environmental cue that winter is coming.” Therefore, they are not able to partake in the traditional fall activities nor enjoy the beauty in the changing of the seasons.
Bereft of the reason we would still fall irrevocably in love with autumn, as it is woven within the fabric of our being. Even as we slip into an interminable frost, we will yearn for the cycling of seasons, to be met once again with autumn.