So far, the November days have been uniformly gray. With the time change, darkness closes in abruptly in the evening. Those of us who survive on light power feel our metabolism slow to a crawl.
There were about six sunny days in October. On every one of them I zoomed around like one possessed, ticking off things on my list, cleaning the garage, raking the yard. But when the sun went under, there went the energy. And the sunny outlook!
Last week, I lit up a few candles to see if they would perk me up in the evening. Sure enough, having a candle flicker nearby made it possible to read and thoroughly enjoy a good book. I have a candle nearby right now, and it makes for a happy scene.
Another rule I should follow in the dark months: Avoid getting swept up in the news.
That's difficult during election season. If I don't look out, "keeping up with current affairs" degenerates into "getting dragged down by the absurdities of the world."
Or, by the tragedies in the world. Hurricane Sandy has despoiled the existence of millions out east. I called my friends in New Jersey. Although their house is fine, they have been without power for a week. They siphoned off gasoline from both of their cars to fuel their generator, which drones on all day and is driving them batty. They have plenty of food and they are warm. So they are lucky.
Even so, the romance of the storm, if there ever was any, has worn off. Dreariness, restlessness and exhaustion have set in.
One particularly worries for the thousands of very elderly who lacked the ability to stock up enough supplies for the storm. One hopes the heartwarming stories of people helping people are universal, and are covering even the lonely.
To a shy Midwesterner, Easterners might seem brusque. However, I have spent enough time out east to know that when push comes to shove, the over-crowded Easterners have big hearts for their fellow humans.
I'll never forget when I locked my keys in my Ford Ranger at a gas station off the Jersey Turnpike. I explained my situation to the attendant through a barred window. The young man hollered across the parking lot to some rough-looking thugs. "Hey! Help this dude get in his truck!"
Despite my suspicion that they were well-trained in the field of entering locked vehicles, the three young men couldn't figure out how to get in my pickup. But they wouldn't give up.
Eventually, we broke the lock on the back sliding window. By then, they had asked me about what Minnesota is like and why I was in Jersey and so on.
It was a happy exchange.
The bottom line to keeping happy, even in dark times, even when you've locked your keys in the car: People. Other people. New people.
Modern life allows us to hide away from other people. Even if we share living quarters with loved ones, it is possible in our over-sized homes to isolate ourselves.
If we become isolated from people, our sense of reality can drift.
"I walk a fine line," said a fellow introvert friend on the phone today. I agreed. Too much exposure to people and I get tired out, while too little exposure can lead to whirling thoughts.
The most healthful form of human contact is when we unite with others in a common task. Cleaning up the mess after a storm. Setting up for a party. Hunting. Cooking. Pulling each other out of snowdrifts. Sharing survival tasks makes us happy, but such tasks are rare.
We suffer from our prosperity, for prosperity has removed the requirement that we share tasks to survive.
If a shared task isn't urgent to survival, like the meaningless annual meeting of an organization that should have shut down years ago, it becomes intolerable to all but the most extroverted.
The generations before us were materially poor, but they were rich in shared survival tasks. It was necessary to be with people to survive. We live in easier times. Yet, even if our house is cozy and warm with plenty of candles and maybe a cat, to stay sane during the dark months of winter, we need to get out and see people.
But what a job!