Jason Kotte—a lifelong resident of winter lands—wrote about how he's recovering from two years where winter really bummed him out.
Sometime this fall — using a combination of Stoicism, stubbornness, and a sort of magical thinking that Jason-in-his-30s would have dismissed as woo-woo bullshit — I decided that because I live in Vermont, there is nothing I can do about it being winter, so it was unhelpful for me to be upset about it. I stopped complaining about it getting cold and dark, I stopped dreading the arrival of snow. I told myself that I just wasn’t going to feel like I felt in the summer and that’s ok — winter is a time for different feelings. As Matt Thomas wrote, I stopped fighting the winter vibe and tried to go with it:
Fall is a time to write for me as well, but it also means welcoming — rather than fighting against — the shorter days, the football games, the decorative gourds. Productivity writer Nicholas Bate’s seven fall basics are more sleep, more reading, more hiking, more reflection, more soup, more movies, and more night sky. I like those too. The winter will bring with it new things, new adjustments. Hygge not hay rides. Ditto the spring. Come summer, I’ll feel less stress about stopping work early to go to a barbecue or movie because I know, come autumn, I’ll be hunkering down. More and more, I try to live in harmony with the seasons, not the clock.
The people in the Norwegian communities Leibowitz studied, they got outside as much as they could — “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” — spent their time indoors being cozy, came together in groups, and marveled at winter’s beauty.
So how has this tiny shift in mindset been working for me so far?
I’ve had more time for reading, watching some interesting TV, eating rich foods, making apple pie, and working. I went for a 6-mile walk in the freezing cold with a friend and it was delightful. And I’m already looking forward to spring and summer as well. It’s comforting to know that warmer weather and longer days are waiting for me in the distance, when I can do more of what I want to do and feel more like my true self. But in the meantime, pass the cocoa and I’ll see you on the slopes.
There's a whole lot of wisdom in what he wrote. There's value in having different rhythms to your life in different seasons. There's value in deciding to have a positive mindset about the things you can't change.
There's also wisdom in recognizing when your circumstances are making you unhappy and doing what you can to change your circumstances. I lived the winter blues for nearly 20 years. I worked hard to have a positive mindset. I worked hard to adjust to constant snow and bitter cold. I worked to find winter clothes that were both warm and something that I liked. But I still was unhappy every winter and couldn't wait for the weather to change.
No matter how good the conversation is, there's nothing appealing about taking a 5-mile walk in the freezing cold with a friend. And it may be true that bad weather is the result of bad clothing. But I never did find gloves that were the right combination of warm enough, dextrous enough, and small enough to fit my dwarven hands. Or warm, waterproof boots that fit my hobbit feet. And I note that even Jason says that he's already—5 months before Wisconsin spring—looking forward to warmer weather and longer days. That's a long time to remind yourself to stay positive.
My breakthrough happened when I finally realized that no one was forcing me to live in the land of ice and snow and that I didn't need permission to leave. I'm having one of my best winters in 20 years because I finally moved from Madison, WI to Tucson, AZ. This isn't a change that everyone can make. I spent 3+ years making sure that it was the right move for the entire family, not just for me. I made sure that I would have a job after the move. We didn't have extended family in Wisconsin.
I'm fortunate that all of those factors lined up for me. But they did and I was able to move. And the move has had an immense impact on my day-to-day happiness and joy in life. I've smiled more, felt giddy more, spent more time outdoors, and looked at the stars more than I have in many years.
If you're truly rooted where you are, then follow Jason's advice on enjoying the long winter. But if you're only staying through inertia, then don't torture yourself. There are no virtue points for living somewhere that you don't like and fighting for contentment. Spending your entire life in one location doesn't make you more moral or more praiseworthy than someone who pulls up stakes and wanders around until they find their good place. Give yourself permission to move on.