Spring, the unsung season

Story highlights

  • Equinox means "equal night" of light and dark (roughly), and metaphorically, we should also spend more time in the light
  • Research suggests that the extended daylight can boost mood, well-being and energy

This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project by David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness. The series is on applying to one's life the wisdom and philosophy found everywhere, from ancient texts to pop culture. You can follow David at @davidgallan. Don't miss another Wisdom Project column; subscribe here.

(CNN)Spring had long been my fourth favorite season.

No offense, spring, but you lack the best holidays, snow, swimming, falling leaves, fireworks and my birthday, for starters. Summer has a lock on beach getaways and frozen cocktails. Fall emits an electric energy and vibrant natural beauty.
Even winter, with its cold temps and gray skies, has skiing and solid gift-giving traditions.
    Spring, on the other hand, always felt like a short, wet blip between egg nog and ice cream -- over before it started.
    But spring is my wife's favorite season, and since -- as she is the first to say -- she's always right, I had to rethink it. After doing some serious reflection and not-very-serious research, I've concluded that spring may be the most profound of the seasons. Its meaning and promise, and how to experience it, are worth dwelling upon.
    This is the season of hope -- that things will get better after they got worse. Change is a-comin', and it's going to be beautiful. Spring reminds us to appreciate what makes us happy by noticing its absence.
    "If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant," wrote English poet Anne Bradstreet. "If we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome."
    Spring signifies coming out of the darkness. We've tipped the balance from longer nights to longer days. Equinox means "equal night" of light and dark (roughly), and metaphorically, we should also spend more time in the light.
    There's even some science to the joy of spring. Research suggests that for many people, the extended daylight boosts mood, well-being and energy. Dopamine -- a neurotransmitter associated with attention, motivation, pleasure and mood -- seems to increase with more exposure to sunlight.
    It's also the time for spring cleaning and ridding your life of detritus, those things you don't need anymore and maybe some bad spirits. Decluttering has its own mental and metaphoric benefit.

    Happy New Year!

    Forget January resolutions. In some cultures and traditions, the start of spring is the start of the new year. It's a great time to draw a line in the sand, renew those long-term goals you may have already let slip. It's time to declare a fresh start!
    Because spring is as old as the planet, ancient religious traditions have evolved around its meaning. Spring is rebirth after the long death of winter, and traditional cultures didn't take the return of food and better weather for granted. They prayed for it.
    The luck-infused Chinese New Year is celebrated after the second full moon after the winter solstice and ends in a parade of dragons and fireworks that scare away the bad spirits.
    In Thailand, I once celebrated Songkran, the water-throwing New Year festival held every April, when Thais also clean their houses for good luck. The 13-day Iranian festival of Nowruz ("new day" or "New Year") is also celebrated by cleaning one's house, filling it with flowers and giving gifts, and on the last day by staying outdoors.
    In Russia, the spring holiday of Maslenitsa (aka Pancake Week!) is a sun festival with singing, dancing, warm beverages, jingle bells, bonfires and lots of pancakes. Passover is a spring holiday that celebrates the brightness that follows the dark days of slavery. And the Indian holiday of Holi brings winter to a Technicolor close.
    Christians celebrate a literal return from death (according to their faith) by Jesus at Easter. That holiday's roots date to the ancient goddess Eostre (from the region that is now Germany), who was accompanied by a magical egg-laying hare. Rabbits and colorful eggs are metaphors for procreation, new beginnings and a promise for what's to come.
    Taking a lesson from our ancestors, we shouldn't take the power of spring for granted, either. Instead, embrace the genesis it imparts over the Earth. While we enjoy more daylight, blooming grass and flowers, and the breeze on our skin after being covered for so long, we should also consider how vital those things are to our basic needs as humans.
    "You know what spring is?" rhetorically asked my wife, the accidental poet. "It's getting up in the morning to get on the road. It's going to the airport to take a flight. It's the promise of adventure before reality sets in."

    Mindfulness + environment = meta-mindfulness

    The reward for expanding awareness to our greater environment, as it unfolds, is that it helps you anchor yourself in time and place.
    Noticing and celebrating what's happening with the weather, temperature, animals, trees and general vibe can help us be more centered and connected. That's what those holidays do, or were designed to do. They bring us together around things we all value religiously and secularly: life, new starts, love, generosity, peace.
    And of course there are many personally enjoyable ways to celebrate and connect to seasons as well: walking in nature, learning to sing or play a seasonal or holiday song, watching a seasonal or holiday movie, enjoying foods traditionally associated with the season and other such activities designed to deliver happiness.
    As you get in touch with spring's gifts, its meaning and metaphoric reminders, make it a year-round meditation.
    "Live in each season as it passes, breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each," said Henry David Thoreau, who knew several books worth about living in community with the seasons.
    In addition to a classic like "Walden," a title that guides you through the year is Verlyn Klinkenborg's hyper-observational "The Rural Life," which I took a year to read so I could focus on each month's chapter at its appropriate time. Author Wendy Pfeffer and illustrator Linda Bleck, whose "A New Beginning" taught me about some spring holidays, created four good children's books about the equinoxes and solstices.
    Each season has its touchstones for the mind and body, many of which you already enjoy, perhaps without realizing it.
    In summer, let the heat slow you down and savor simple pleasures. Waste time at beaches and pools. Go camping, or at least spend the day in the woods. Eat cherries, peaches and ice cream. Run through sprinklers and wave around sparklers, see an outdoor performance or more if you can swing it, read a book with little literary merit for the guilty pleasure of it.
    In fall, welcome an inward focus as the days get chillier and darker. Feel the form-fitting embrace of a favorite sweater. Let Halloween be an excuse to play someone else for a night, or to play tricks on others, or to eat too much chocolate. Savor cider doughnuts, apple pie and candy corn. Stop to see the orange-yellow-red foliage in its beautiful death bloom.
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    In winter, go deep inside yourself and get snug and comfortable there. Practice the Scandinavian coziness art of hygge. Throw and build things with snow and slide down it. Warm your hands by the fire and your tummy with hot chocolate or hot toddies. Wrap a gift and give it to someone you love.
    And in spring, let yourself break out of the cocoon. Open those windows. get outside, plant something, fly a kite, ride a bike, have a picnic. We've endured the darkness and need to play.