Norway celebrates its cold, dark winter – maybe we should too, researcher says


It's already getting dark early, but the sun will set earlier and earlier as the days tick by here.

It will also get colder. We've had unseasonable warmth recently, but the winds that numb your skin and sting your cornea are coming.

And we should celebrate it.

That's the message from Kari Leibowitz, a researcher and writer who went to Tromsø, Norway – 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. (For comparison, International Falls, Minnesota has a longitude of 48.59 degrees north; Tromsø is at 69.68 degrees north.)

In Tromsø, the sun essentially doesn't rise from November through January, and the summers are shorter than Minnesota's spring.

Writing in The Atlantic earlier this year, Leibowitz says she found its residents aren't as depressed or down about that as you might expect, and instead Norwegian locals celebrate "all things koselig" that come with winter (that's the Norwegian word for “cozy," she writes).

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So she and a colleague developed the Wintertime Mindset Scale and posed some statements to residents such as, "There are many things to enjoy about the winter,” and “I find the winter months dark and depressing.”

She found the people who had a positive Wintertime Mindset – who told themselves to celebrate the dark, cold winters – "tended to be the same people who were highly satisfied with their lives and who pursued personal growth."

This isn't necessarily easy – Seasonal Affective Disorder, where you experience a "serious mood change" during the winter months, is a real thing, the National Institute of Health says.

But the Mayo Clinic says being optimistic and thinking positively can help with stress (and not doing so can be unhelpful). Leibowitz, in the Atlantic piece, links to two older research papers about mental distress in far northern cities.

Exactly how much it impacts our health still isn't totally clear, however.

Still, there are signs.

Fast Company wrote about Leibowitz's work, and she noted people in the U.S. tend to bond over their winter melancholy. And it's "hard to have a positive wintertime mindset when we make small talk by being negative about the winter," she said.

As Fast Company writes, if you want to try it:

"This is easy enough to change; simply refuse to participate in the Misery Olympics. Talk about how the cold gives you a chance to drink tea or hot chocolate all day. Talk about ice skating, or building snowmen. Bundle up and go for a walk outside, knowing that you’ll likely feel warmer and happier after a few minutes."

Here in Minnesota, we tend to know how to spend winter outdoors. But if you're still not sure, TriHealth has some tips for staying positive during the season.

And if you want to learn more about Tromsø, Leibowitz also has a blog where she chronicled a lot of her experiences.

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