If you think you have it bad when it comes to winter, just consider what those living in the north of Norway have to deal with.

It might be pitch black in your town by the time you get out of the office, but in places like Tromsø north of the Arctic Circle, the sun never rises at all in the winter. You might curse the cold when you climb into your freezing car each morning, but conditions aren't literally polar. In northern Norway, they pretty much are.

So those crazy enough to live in these regions must suffer from some pretty serious winter blues, right? Not at all.

"Past research has shown that residents of Tromsø have lower rates of wintertime depression than would be expected given the long winters and high latitude. In fact, the prevalence of self-reported depression during the winter in Tromsø, with its latitude of 69N, is the same as that of Montgomery County, Maryland, at 41N," Kari Leibowitz, a PhD student at Stanford University who spent a year in Tromsø studying the residents' mental health, explained in the Atlantic.

In the fascinating and lengthy article, Leibowitz recounts her time spent in the far north, explaining exactly how Norwegians get through months and months of dark days and brutal weather relatively unscathed, as well as offering tips that can help you be less miserable this winter yourself. Apparently, your mood all comes down to your mindset -- not what it says on the thermometer.

Focus on the benefits

Before Leibowitz's stint in Tromsø, her attitude to winter was similar to that of most people living in northern states. "In New Jersey, where I grew up, almost no one looked forward to winter, myself included," she writes. "People simply got through the wintertime darkness on the way to a brighter, happier season."

But things were very different in Norway. "In Tromsø, the prevailing sentiment is that winter is something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured. According to my friends, winter in Tromsø would be full of snow, skiing, the northern lights, and all things koselig, the Norwegian word for 'cozy,'" she explains.

While you might not be able to muster an actual enthusiasm for winter, the first step to hating the season less is to focus less on shoveling snow drifts and battling constant sniffles, and more on the unique pleasures of this time of year -- be that comforting warm drinks, cozy nights in on the couch, slow cooked roasts, the smell of a Christmas tree, or your passion for skiing.

Complaining won't make it better

Once you have your own attitude sorted, the next step is making some outward changes in how you talk about winter. In America, moaning about the cold and snow is a surefire conversation starter. But while complaining about the weather might be an easy way to socialize, it isn't doing much for your mood.

"One of the things we do a lot of in the States is we bond by complaining about the winter," Leibowitz tells author Laura Vanderkam in an interview about her experience for Fast Company. "It's hard to have a positive wintertime mindset when we make small talk by being negative about the winter." Vanderkam sums up the takeaway for those looking to have a happier winter this year nicely: "simply refuse to participate in the Misery Olympics."

The bottom line isn't fancy, but based on Leibowitz's experience among the cheery residents of frigid Tromsø it seems quite powerful. "You can just consciously try to have a positive wintertime mindset and that might be enough to induce it," she concludes.

Are you dreading or happily anticipating the winter months?

Published on: Nov 18, 2015
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