When the weather is bad, many people seek solace in a good book or cup of marshmallow-speckled hot cocoa until brighter days return. But when gloomy weather swallows a whole season of the year, a bit of chocolate and a few paperbacks often aren't enough to keep depression at bay.
Nearly 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Tromsø, Norway winters are, by my standards, brutal. This is not because of the cold (temperatures are often mild ranging from 20-35 degrees F) but because of a lack of sunlight. Every November to January Tromsø’s bit of earth is tipped away from the sun and the city is cloaked in Polar Night.
Despite the darkness, studies have shown that the people of Tromsø have lower rates of wintertime depression predicted for people living at this latitude (69°N). To learn how they fend off seasonal depression and if their strategies could be applied elsewhere, Stanford graduate student Kari Leibowitz traveled to Tromsø to conduct a series of interviews and surveys.
What she found surprised her, Leibowitz explains in a recent Christian Science Monitor article. The people she surveyed often failed to understand her questions about wintertime depression because they actually enjoyed the season.
Leibowitz states that further research is needed, but her work thus far suggests that the attitude people have about a stressful situation may dictate whether it causes mental distress or if it enhances their mood.
Her findings are in line with the work of Stanford psychologists Carol Dweck, PhD, and Alia Crum, PhD. Their research investigates the way people perceive a situation and how their mindset can help them flourish in what some may see as an undesirable situation, such as a long, sunless winter.
“Norwegians have a saying that ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,’ which typifies their ingrained belief that being active is part of a happy life – and, especially, a happy winter,” Leibowitz writes.
Image by Shandi-lee Cox