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Gifts of the Spirit

Long before the birth of Jesus, the Celtic and Norse pagans exchanged gifts at the time of the winter solstice. They believed that this practice mitigated one’s vulnerability to the evil spirits felt to be present at times of darkness and transition. Now it seems reasonable, from the perspective of modern neuroscience, to assume that these pagans were sensing the power of gifts to uplift “the spirit within.” But what is the nature of this internal spirit? The fact that the pagans felt they needed a boost at the coldest, darkest time of the year provides a strong clue.Deep inside of our intelligence system (in the basal ganglia of the midbrain), an accounting of our energetic viability is always taking place. When the tally of our perceived energetic resources is low, we tend to feel low. Sunlight is the mother of all energetic resources, and when it’s in short supply, most of us feel less “spirited.” Considered by some to be a disorder, this seasonally diminished sense of pleasure — as well as the reduction of the motivation that pleasure fuels — is an adaptation: it kept our ancestors from expending be …

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