Friday, November 20, 2009

Seasonal Decorations & Mental Health

Among the delights of walking in autumn are the foliage and the Halloween decorations, though at this point the trees are bare (though not the lower growing bushes), and the Halloween decorations are being replaced by Christmas decorations. I guess I’ll have to take my own Halloween decorations down shortly. (This consists of a porch display with six differently shaped light-up jack-o-lanterns, a large plywood ghost, 2 plastic hangings of a witch with cauldron and a pair of black cats peeping out of a pumpkin, and a strand of lights with alternating jack-o-lanterns and friendly ghosts.) As with last year, it did seem to me that fewer people were decorating for Halloween, and I wonder if that also means fewer Christmas decorations. When people who previously had a zest for decorating stop doing it, I suspect that they are either overworked or depressed—and that is a reflection of our current economy.

As a walker, I recall a past walk on a bleak winter day, where a single string of Christmas lights in an otherwise undecorated cul de sac in Holt was enough to give my spirits a boost. It may be that as an Asperger’s Syndrome person, I am extra-sensitive to the environment, but that would go for a lot of other people with neuro-processing disorders, including schizophrenics. It also goes to show that subtle interactions can take place between a homeowner and a walker, or other persons just passing through, so you can have an effect on other people’s mental health. Little things you do can affect people you don’t even know.

These things also affect drivers, because in late fall and winter, when many of us leave for work in darkness and come home in darkness, the sight of lighted decorations in the neighborhoods we pass through certainly adds cheer. I leave my Halloween lights on throughout the day, so that it will be easier for me to find my way home at night. (Out on these long stretches of country road, with no distinguishing landmarks that you can see in the dark, it is easy to overshoot your house.) However, I also turn them on on days that I don’t go in to work, and I leave them on through the evenings, as my public service. As I concur with Thoreau’s observation that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” I feel that anything we can do to help offset depression is worth doing.

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