Repeat After Me: "I Love Winter"

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

A few years ago, I stomped into a coffee shop on one of those dreary, snowy winter days when hope vanishes behind the clouds.

Shivering, I said to the barista, "I hate winter." She stared at me like I'd kicked her in the shin. Her eyes welled up with tears, and she quickly turned away to get my order.

What did I say to cause that reaction? She seemed to take it personally that I hated winter. And then it hit me.

"Your name can't be Winter," I said. She nodded and showed me her ID to prove it.

Not my best moment, but that happens to people in the dead of winter. Shorter days, longer nights and the lack of sunshine combine to make it harder to feel positive and happy. There's even a disorder caused by winter - Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD), which basically means that you get sad because of the lack of light. It's real depression; it's just tied to this time of year. And, of course, if a disorder affects one person, it affects everyone else in the family, too.

But SAD, or even just a little droopiness, might not be inevitable. A recent study by Kari Leibowitz, a Ph.D. student at Stanford University on a Fulbright scholarship, showed that winter's negative effects can be countered simply by changing our attitudes about it.

Really? Just change our attitudes? Trust me, I was skeptical, too. I remember one winter when I lived in Connecticut and I didn't see a blade of grass from Thanksgiving to April. I remember staring out the window asking, "What the heck happened?"

Leibowitz's study focused on a small town in Norway that barely saw the sun during winter, and yet the town's rate of SAD was lower than in the United States. The study concluded that was because Norwegians not only accept winter but embrace it. They celebrate the season, and it shows in their moods.

We don't have to go that far, of course. If we find just a few things to like about winter, it can make a big difference in our reactions to it. As we know from working with family systems, small change is more effective than a major overhaul of our attitudes. Small change is easier to start, easier to maintain and causes ripples in our lives (and in our families) that lead to the bigger changes we want.

I remember my reaction to snow days as a kid - running outside, building snow forts and constructing the worst snowmen on the street. (Hey, not everyone can build Frosty.) There was joy in winter, which I lost somewhere along the way. But I know it's still there. It wasn't that long ago that I was sliding down snowy hills with my kids, building memories that might help them someday when they're staring out a window asking, "Where did the sun go?"

Now, if the barista would just forgive me.