You want me to welcome summer? It’s not even spring yet!
The mercury and merchandisers may be pointing the way to June, but there’s happiness to be found in not rushing.
By next weekend, you'll start seeing Sam Adams Summer Ale arrive in local bars and package stores. That news won't faze the guy down the street who inexplicably wears shorts all winter and drinks iced coffee in a snowstorm, but I find it a little early to be heralding the arrival of summer when it's officially winter until March 20. In fact, I'm wondering what even happened to winter. The day after New Year's, I went into our packie looking for Sam Winter Lager and was greeted instead by cases of Cold Snap, a white ale with "spring spices."
Spring spices? It hadn't even really snowed yet. Granted, a wintry mix of Christmas carols and holiday ads had filled the air for two straight months, so you can forgive folks for assuming spring was on its way. "In New England, we're often leaning into our seasons rather than waiting for the next one," explains Jim Koch, Sam Adams founder and brewer. Indeed, his is hardly the only brewery rushing to release its seasonal ales, and this phenomenon isn't confined to the beer industry.
These days, we hear the jingle bells of Christmas commerce as early as October (when I'm scrambling to scoop up the last remaining bottles of Oktoberfest). The March issue of This Old House, chock-full of gardening tips, hit my mailbox on February 1, when our garden was buried under snow. And with new model-year vehicles arriving in late summer, many 2017 cars will be driven for thousands of miles before 2016 even ends. That tears at the very fabric of time!
When did we get so far ahead of ourselves? Is there such a thing as time inflation?
"Consumers have a higher bar for stimulation today than they've had in the past, because our online lives are so rich and exciting all the time," says consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, professor emerita of Golden Gate University in San Francisco. "We crave newness and fresh ideas, and we're really eager for the next thing to be coming along."
But when we rush ahead into, well, just about everything, it comes at the expense of the present. And the present matters. Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer says being mindful in the moment — instead of coasting on autopilot — delivers proven benefits. "After almost 40 years of research, we've found that when we make people more mindful and teach them to notice new things and to be more aware of the uncertainty around them, we see improvements in people's health and happiness — they live longer, relationships improve, they're more charismatic," Langer says. "We basically find improvement across the board."
Likewise, a study by Matt Killingsworth, a University of California, Berkeley research fellow, found that people are happiest when they're focused on the moment and not distracted — even by a pleasant daydream. "People are less happy when they're mind-wandering, no matter what they're doing," Killingsworth says in a TEDx talk. "For example, people don't really like commuting to work very much . . . and yet they are substantially happier when they're focused only on their commute than when their mind is going off to something else."
Why is it so hard for us to slow down and appreciate the present, even though it would make us happier and healthier? "People think they know things,'' Langer says, "and when you think you know, there's no reason to tune in.''
In other words: I know spring will be dreary. It always is. So let's get it over with.
Our impatience may be accelerating, but it's nothing new. Oktoberfest, Munich's famous beer festival named for the month it was originally celebrated, now begins in September. The change happened organically, long ago, and for the simplest reason of all: People really liked it and wanted it to last longer.
Summertime and the holidays are popular, too — what's so wrong about stretching them out? Nothing, says Langer, as long as people are doing it consciously rather than mindlessly following retail industry cues. "The important thing is that people are happy and excited about whatever they're doing," she says.
So I don't begrudge anyone who wants to celebrate summer in April. But rather than wish away my next few months, I'm going to try to appreciate spring in Boston for what it is, when it is. The key to being mindful, Langer says, is noticing things and realizing you don't know what the moment will hold. "When you notice things, it puts you in the present," she says. Spring actually lends itself to mindfulness, because it's so teasingly uncertain. Each day brings subtle changes: a shrinking snowbank, new shoots of green on your walk to the T, a sullen sky that gives way to a welcoming warm day . . . or an infuriating snowstorm.
I'm going to soak up spring's surprises. I'll listen to each lilting fiddle note amid the liver-busting bedlam of Saint Patrick's Day. During the Red Sox home opener, I'll try to get a glimpse of the summer to come — from under a wool hat — by studying the early at-bats of our local nine. I'll take in the cheerful cherry blossoms in the Public Garden and each magnolia tree bursting into bloom along Comm. Ave. And I'll cheer all the nicknames and encouragements scrawled on the backs of friends and strangers running the Boston Marathon on Patriots Day.
I just hope there are still a few bottles of Sam Summer left when I'm finally ready for the season that comes next.