The dark evening have come. The Celtic month of Samhain has been reached; the month of the dead in which the days grow ever shorter. It is not hard to see how those in former times dreaded the dark months, those times when even the daylight is not much more than a grey gloominess.
A friend once complained that winters here were so much darker than in Ontario, her home for decades. It was a baffling comment, the latitudes are not so different. “How so?” I asked. “The daylight hours are not that different”.
“It’s the light”, she said. “In Ontario the snows come and the skies clear and the sunshine on the snow fills everything with brilliant light. Here there is greyness”.
Perhaps it is about time as well as light; perhaps the closing weeks of the year are a reminder of passing time.Perhaps a sense of the loss of time can explain as much about people’s moods as the loss of light.
It is odd. In parts of central Africa, in some of the world’s poorest places, there is a constant buoyant mood. People living in absolute poverty, in conditions we cannot imagine, seem to laugh and smile throughout the day. Barefoot children dressed in rags, who seem to have every conceivable reason for despondency, instead seem blessed with an irrepressible bubbliness; anything might be an occasion for singing and humour. To us, their life might seem uniformly depressing; there might seem seem no prospect of change, yet their perspective seems different. Even the days don’t change, twelve hours of light and twelve of darkness every day; there is hardly a surfeit of daylight to account for the infectious happiness that seems to brighten everything it touches, yet there is happiness.
“There is not the same sense of time”, a friend once suggested. “When life is so precarious, you live for the present moment. If you want to be happy, you have to be happy now”.
Perhaps so. It is always extraordinary to read of soldiers in wartime who can enjoy themselves in moments of respite, despite knowing that a few days, or even a few hours, later, they will be in the thick of fighting from which they may not return. Social histories of the Second World War suggest there were great shifts in people’s patterns of behaviour because of the constant uncertainty about survival.
The odd logic of an argument suggesting that people’s mood is shaped by their perspective on the future, is that people seem happier when they give no thought to years to come, than they do when the plan everything for years ahead. Life lived each moment at a time, and even Samhain is a happy month.