March 24, 2022

Article at Jeff on Authory

I thought I was happy, but it’s just the euphoria brought on by pleasure-induced hormones

As luck would have it, it is pretty much the exact moment of the vernal equinox as I sit to write this: 9:30 a.m. on March 20.

The first day of spring.

Well, technically. Science has done us the courtesy of defining the seasons as the periods between solstices and equinoxes. Spring begins right now, and continues until the solstice in June. Period.

Thank you, science.

Of course science is important, but it can take the fun out of things. I’ve been enjoying the mild weather all week, my spirits lifted by the brilliant sunshine, the warm breezes, and the melting snow. Spring had already arrived on time—on its own time—science and the equinox be damned.

A few years ago I wrote a story about the importance of volunteering. One of the benefits of doing good is the so-called “helper’s high,” that feeling of satisfaction you get from helping others.

For anyone who likes to lend a hand, it’s an obvious benefit, and it doesn’t require a detailed analysis. It’s just good common sense: being useful and appreciated feels nice.

Or, as the boffins explain, helping people activates the brain’s pleasure centres which release endorphins—naturally-produced opiate proteins that dull pain and contribute to euphoric feelings.  

And not just endorphins! You also get a natural dose of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine, which boost our mood while blocking cortisol (the stress hormone).

As far as I know, all of this is absolutely accurate. And I have no doubt that it’s vitally important for psychologists and others to understand the mechanisms behind our emotions.

But geez, people, leave this language in the lab. Keep it in the clinic. When I’m whistling a happy tune, I don’t need to be told that I am creating a vibrating air column of varying velocity thus affecting the wavelength frequency, or pitch, thanks to a release of endorphins and a suppression of cortisol in my cerebral cortex.

I’m whistling my happy tune because it’s spring, and I love spring.  I love the longer hours of daylight, I love the rain, I love the ever-warming temperatures as the days go from to cold to mild to warm to hot. I love the reward for having endured winter, and I love the promise of another glorious summer.

Spring is not a day, it’s a season. And it’s not an event, it’s a process. It can test our patience sometimes—there will be more cold and snow before it’s done—but it will deliver growth and renewal and optimism, as it always does.

The summer solstice will occur around three in the morning on June 21. But we will have bidden farewell to spring well before that: when the trees are in full leaf, the bugs are buzzing, and the weather is hot.

The language of science needs to be precise; the language of our hearts merely needs to be true.