Solomon: Summer Sluggishness

Lethargy over sophomore summer is not a reason to panic.

by Ioana Solomon | 7/6/17 11:10pm

Summer has been strange so far. It has been hard to reconcile the beautiful, sunny, languid days with the looming realization that real work needs to get done. Going from a swim in the river to a frat barbeque or a trip to Ice Cream Fore-U straight back to 3rd Floor Berry has not aligned well with my usual rhythm. On top of this sense of summer lethargy I realized that I also feel an acute sense of guilt. Despite doing all my scheduled work and signing up for as many recruiting sessions I can fit into my schedule, I feel frustrated with how little sleep I am getting and how hectic my daily life has become.

Sophomore summer is often described as the “easiest” term for most Dartmouth students. With a supposedly lighter workload and so many opportunities for both wholesome and not-so-wholesome fun, the summer is meant to feel different from a regular term. With our class having the campus to ourselves, the sunny days and seemingly carefree disposition of most students should engender a fairly easy going atmosphere.

It has not really worked out that way for me. I have found myself unexpectedly busy and stressed the first two weeks of this term, rarely being able to find any organic time for my own leisure. Grabbing a scoop of gelato, eating my lunch outside or taking a short nap always came with the awareness that I was sacrificing something, whether that meant forfeiting a few hours of sleep, risking a few points on an assignment or even jeopardizing my prospects of finding an off-term internship. None of these are legitimate fears, not actually. But my desire to enjoy the outdoors and the resulting fear of “wasting” time have recently occupied an unreasonably vast amount of headspace. I recognize that I am less focused, less productive and less satisfied with my work ethic. I am not reaching 100 percent of my mental capacity and while part of me feels fully responsible for that, another part believes it is not entirely my fault.

Most behavioral scientists would agree with the latter. Recent studies have found a negative correlation between good weather and a subjects’ productivity, motivation and critical thinking ability. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Labor Economics found that men spent on average thirty more minutes at work on rainy days than on comparatively sunny days. A 2012 investigation conducted by researchers from Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that studied Japanese bank workers and reached a similar conclusion: bad weather made workers more productive. Those researchers then timed two groups of Harvard students completing data entry tasks. One group was shown six pictures of pleasant outdoors activities, while the other group was asked to describe their daily routine. The first group was objectively less productive. Instead of focusing on their work, they presumably thought about what they would rather be doing. Pleasant alternatives – like being in the beautiful Hanover outdoors instead of reading 40 pages of an economics textbook – take a toll on our ability to concentrate.

A lot of other research goes beyond productivity, finding connections between weather and thoughtfulness, critical thinking and even happiness. In 1994, Gerald Clore found that pleasant weather can lead to a lapse in thoughtfulness and undermine undergraduate students’ ability to thoroughly analyze given information. Sweltering heat and high humidity can also amplify those effects. A different study published in the British Journal of Psychology found that high humidity induced lower concentration and increased sleepiness in participants, in addition to weakening their critical thinking – the hotter the weather, the less likely the subjects were to question what they were being told.

I would also argue that through our years spent in formal education, we might have developed an inherent rsummer rhthym. For every year that we have spent in school, we have become accustomed to shut our brains off in the summer. Granted, we have probably gone to camps, done some reading and throughout high school, maybe even worked or interned somewhere. But the academic rigor of a daily class schedule is something we may have perhaps learned to disassociate with the summer season.

Good weather, however, does have its positives. While it may make us more sluggish and even jeopardize how diligent and efficient we are, it can also make us more content. People tend to be happier as the days get warmer and longer and sadder as they get shorter and colder.

I would like to think I am not the only one struggling with adjusting to the pace of this term. The important thing to remember is that feeling a little idle is okay. I am certainly not advocating for laziness or apathy – we all have a responsibly to make the most of our education here and that cannot happen without a fair amount of hard work. However, we know ourselves and it is perfectly reasonable to adjust our schedules to reflect what we know we can and cannot do. Sophomore summer is unlike any other term. If taking fewer classes while enjoying the outdoors improves the summer, then we should not hesitate to take the opportunity. Absorbing as much vitamin D as possible and making every effort to be genuinely happier may actually work to your advantage later in life. The fulfillment we can find at Dartmouth is something we might rarely, if ever, achieve again. To really enjoy Sophomore Summer, we need to let go of artificial constructs and restrictive fears, reflect on who we are and what we want and make these ten weeks what we need them to be.