A stock boy’s salary would not allow me to fix the heater in my beat-up 1986 Pontiac Grand-Am during one dreary Detroit winter of my sophomore year in high school. Each morning I picked up two friends who would prepare for the bone-chilling commute by slapping on extra layers of clothing and wrapping scarves around their heads. Both would rather freeze their asses off instead of hitching a ride on the dorky school bus.
Their mummified heads remained slouched down during the dreaded commute and not a word was spoken because it was just too damn cold. At times I wished words were exchanged so that the warmness of breath would aid in defrosting my cracked windshield.
Entering the school, rosy-cheeked and shivering, it was a long walk down the hallway to our lockers. Sometimes I would sit on the floor in front of my locker to thaw like a frozen hamburger patty slapped onto the kitchen counter. Hunched over and motionless, I looked like a frozen dead Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining. It was one of the most depressing winters of my existence.
Today happens to be “Blue Monday”—the third Monday in January— coined by Welsh psychologist Cliff Arnall in 2005 as the most depressing day of the year. Welsh came up with some fancy formula calculating such factors as debt levels, weather conditions, failed New Year’s resolutions, and low motivational levels.
There’s a general consensus that society morphs into an Eeyore-like persona roaming the streets in a gloomy depression during the brutal winter season. The frigid weather turns us into hermits. The sun abandons us. My neighbors disappear from December to April. When I do see them in April, they look like grizzly bears stretched out on their front lawns after awakening from months of hibernation.
Harsh winters are a time when many suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) which renders people into a dark depression.
Our attention spans can dissipate inhibiting productivity. A recent study claims brain activity, associated with sustaining attention, peaks in June and is lowest in December.
Then there are those individuals who use the winter blues as a mechanism to do extraordinary things.
Being cooped up in your home can serve as a time for reflection and soul searching. Winter offers fewer distractions. We are not tempted by warm blue-sky sunny days, barbecues, bikinis and Coronas.
A Harvard study concluded that bad weather increases productivity by removing the cognitive distractions that result from clear skies and the warm sun shining on our faces. When the weather outside is frightful, people focus more on their work rather than thinking about all of the fun they could be having outside.
Old man winter forces us into isolation. It’s in isolation that innovative ideas are hatched.
Nathaniel Hawthorne could only write during the fall and winter and never during the summer months. Some of the greatest technology companies in the world were built in basements and garages away from the elements. The British poet Edith Sitwell wrote in bed. Maya Angelou could only write in a secluded dark motel room.
When it’s ten below outside, you are now given an excuse to stay indoors to: read a new book, write, brainstorm ideas, tinker, draw, paint, take a course from Lynda.com in a subject that interests you, build something, research, make music.
Winter is an opportunity to pounce on your climatic misfortune rather than continuing to mope around counting the days until the flowers bloom.
Embrace the soulful solitude that comes with winter’s wrath.
And if you must step outside onto the icy concrete, think of the words of Megan Rizzo:
Even on the coldest days of winter the sun is bright in the sky, bringing joy to my heart. The snow has a purity that elevates my spirit, the world made as pristine as a book ready for new stories. Already my creativity is surging, dancing around the evergreens with the delight of a child. Even the coldness upon my face is refreshing, my body cozy inside a warm coat.
Photo by DeShaun Craddock