Thursday, November 12, 2015


Let’s say you are NOT snowbirding into the warmer zones of the U.S. or Mexico. Let’s say you just tough it out at home – up north, where winter always comes in some form. We did that for many, many years – in Norway. We are about to do it again this year and we sure stood through it last year in Alberta. When you stay home, are you complaining a lot about this darn winter? Are you feeling like you step into a freezer each morning when you go outside? And do you join in on the yammering when another snow storm hits your house in the middle of April?

norway winterWell, then you might learn something if you continue to read the article below.



As the days get darker and colder in much of the northern hemisphere, it’s easy to indulge in gloom. For the next few months, you’ll be shivering. You’ll be battling foul weather. Thanks to daylight saving time there will be no chance to see the sun after work.

The gloom leads to a common question: What can I do to cope with the dark and cold?

If you truly want to be happy during winter, though, this is the wrong approach to the season. Changing your mindset can do more than distracting yourself from the weather.

That’s the takeaway from research done by Kari Leibowitz, currently a PhD student at Stanford University, who spent August 2014 to June 2015 on a Fulbright scholarship in Tromsø in northern Norway. Tromsø is so far north that from late November to late January, the sun never climbs above the horizon. Leibowitz went to study the residents’ overall mental health, because rates of seasonal depression were lower than one might expect.

Norway winter001

Photo Credits: Flickr user Mark Robinson

At first, she was asking "Why aren’t people here more depressed?" and if there were lessons that could be taken elsewhere. But once she was there, "I sort of realized that that was the wrong question to be asking," she says. When she asked people "Why don’t you have seasonal depression?" the answer was "Why would we?"

It turns out that in northern Norway, "people view winter as something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured," says Leibowitz, and that makes all the difference.


To be sure, there are some aspects of the near-polar culture that might be hard to emulate elsewhere. Small Norwegian communities are tightly knit, and strong social ties increase well-being everywhere. That said, there are lessons that can help anyone think differently about cold weather.

First, Norwegians celebrate the things one can only do in winter. "People couldn’t wait for the ski season to start," says Leibowitz. Getting outside is a known mood booster, and so Norwegians keep going outside, whatever is happening out there. Notes Leibowitz: "There’s a saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."

Norwegians also have a word, koselig, that means a sense of coziness. It’s like the best parts of Christmas, without all the stress. People light candles, light fires, drink warm beverages, and sit under fuzzy blankets. There’s a community aspect to it too; it’s not just an excuse to sit on the couch watching Netflix. Leibowitz reports that Tromsø had plenty of festivals and community activities creating the sense that everyone was in it together.

Noway winter002

Photo Credits: Flickr userJan Fredrik Frantzen

And finally, people are enamored with the sheer beauty of the season. Leibowitz grew up near the Jersey shore, and "I just took it as a fact that everyone likes summer the best." But deep in the winter in Norway, when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon, multiple hours a day can still look like sunrise and sunset, and against the snow, "the colors are incredibly beautiful," she says. "The light is very soft and indirect."


Most likely you can’t cross-country ski straight out of your house, and while Norwegian sweaters may be catching on, restaurants and coffee shops in more temperate climates don’t all feature the fireplaces and candles common to the far north. Still, there are little things non-Norwegians can do. "One of the things we do a lot of in the States is we bond by complaining about the winter," says Leibowitz. "It’s hard to have a positive wintertime mindset when we make small talk by being negative about the winter."

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. Better yet, go with a friend. Social plans are a great reason to haul yourself out from under the covers.

But overall, mindset research is increasingly finding that it doesn’t take much to shift one’s thinking. "It doesn’t have to be this huge complicated thing," says Leibowitz. "You can just consciously try to have a positive wintertime mindset and that might be enough to induce it."

Well….there you got it. It’s all about attitude and in our heads.


  1. I will remind you when your mood gets blue during this winter. When you don't want to get off the couch and out into the cold and blustery winds. :)

  2. LOL, Bea. I like that comment.

    Funny thing, my mother's father came from Norway. The "Norwegian" is often referred to as "no brains" or "weird". I would love to learn more about where the grandfather came from, it may enlighten many of us on some of the "ways" of thinking that came from that side of the family. At any rate, I think Norway has much to offer, and find it interesting. I just am pretty sure I want to remain in Arizona during the winter months.

  3. Even most of the family doctors recommend going to warmer places during the winter months to avoid irritating some medical conditions. However changing one's mindset would help to make it through the time of year that most don't appreciate.
    I'd better start practicing because we'll be riding out winter at home this year.
    Be Safe and Enjoy!

    It's about time.

  4. We invariably ride out the winter, but we do share the sense of "koselig", as the house is reasonably well insulated (now, finally) and I have a heated shop. Gets quite comfy out there. Would be hard to give it up. At least for the foreseeable future.

  5. Like you said its all in your mindset, there is always a good side to everything, even the cold winter all you have to do find it and enjoy it.

  6. Thanks for the Norwegian advice. I will put it to the test as I will be spending the winter in Oregon.


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