Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year. For those living in my latitude, that means we will experience just over 9 hours of daylight and almost 15 hours of darkness.
For the record, I am not a fan of that much darkness. While I do not officially suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, I am affected by the relative lack of sunlight. Whether I like it or not, the amount of sunlight outside makes a difference to my moods. I am simply not as cheerful and peppy on dark, overcast days. In fact, on really dreary days I sometimes turn on all the lights in the house in an attempt to improve my mood. (It does help.)
Our environment matters
Our environment affects our moods, which in turn affect how we function: our ability to learn, concentrate, control emotions, etc. But we are not all affected by the same factors. Some are significantly affected by lack of light while others barely notice the difference.
I first encountered this concept—that people have differing needs when it comes to environmental factors—when reading the book, The Way They Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias. (A book I recommend to all parents of school-aged children.) One chapter explains that one child’s ideal study environment is very different from another’s. For example, I prefer to read or do other thinking tasks in bright light. My sons, on the other hand, prefer reading in dimmer light. Before reading the book, I would “help” them by turning on some lights so they could “see what they were reading.”
Now I know better.
Not everyone does their best concentrating while sitting at a desk with bright ambient light, no background noise, and complete solitude. (How many of you just shuddered at that scenario? Come on, admit it, some of you would hate such a sterile environment. But it works for me.)
Factors that may affect our mood or ability to think efficiently include:
- Light intensity
- Background noise
- Hunger and thirst
- Proximity of other people
- Time of day
We are all affected by some factors more than others. Another personal example: If I’m in the middle of a project, I can easily work for hours without thought for food or drink, but if I am cold I find it hard to concentrate. Since ambient temperature is rarely within my control, I must choose clothing that will keep me adequately warm—a goal that is often at odds with the latest fashion trends. (ie. Sleeveless blouse + AC = cold, grumpy Lisa.)
Do you know which factors are most important to you? Your spouse? Your children?
While we cannot completely control these factors, particularly when outside the home, we should do whatever is in our power to optimize our ability to function at our best—and to have the grace to allow others to work in their preferred environments, even when they seem all wrong to us.
And for those of you who find these dark days mildly depressing, cheer up. After tomorrow, the days are getting longer again. Hooray.