As people who work with the public, we frequently engage in small talk. Most of this small talk, admittedly, has to do with the weather. By just the second week in November, we all find ourselves talking about how it’s going to be such a long winter. How we were unprepared for the cold. How “at least the sun is shining today!” Data tells us that seasonal depression is a very real concern in places like Wisconsin. Yet I just found this compelling article about how in Norway, with similar winters and at times, much more extreme “gloom” (lack of sun but for a few hours a day) has much lower rates of seasonal depression. Why is this? A Stanford University Ph.D. student discovered some interesting things about the mindset of Norwegian people that may be the secret to why the residents seem to have less mental health suffering in the cold dark months of winter.
The key ideas included that people view winter as something to “be enjoyed, not something to be endured.” The residents take up hobbies that can only be enjoyed in the winter: skiing, snowshoeing, etc. They also embrace something they call, koselig, or ‘a sense of coziness.’ How lovely to light a fire and drink a warm beverage. To snuggle under a fuzzy blanket. To curl up with a book. We have the whole winter to enjoy these activities! They also embrace the beauty that comes with this weather—soft and indirect light, twinkling off of the glistening snow. Trees covered in frost. Finally, they celebrate and embrace social interaction in winter. A far cry from our behaviors here, where we essentially hibernate. In Norway, residents participate in a lot of community activities and festivals which created a sense of bonding—that everyone was in it together. Here, we have a similar bonding experience in winter, although it is much more complaint-laden. We commiserate over the cold rather than celebrating the positives together. Our small talk contains negative connotations about the season.
Why am I telling you this? Because the library is an excellent winter resource. We have those books for your fireside reading. We have materials that can help you learn how to keep your hands busy this winter (when else do you have a few hours to focus on that needlework, or decorating your home, or planning your road trips next summer?). We have programs where you can keep social interactions alive this season rather than hiding out in your living room watching Netflix (I’m not judging, just sayin’). And finally, we have staff who intend to embrace the positives that come with winter in Wisconsin. Rather than joining the “Misery Olympics” of making small talk about the terrible winter season, we will be talking about drinking hot chocolate or building snowmen. We will be recommending books we were only able to read because the slippery roads provided us enough uninterrupted time to get lost in someone else’s story. We will be bonding with patrons over our love, rather than distaste, for this long season that started not too soon, but just in time.