Strategies for Happiness

January 8, 2016 § 6 Comments


Let’s face it: winter in the Northeast is depressing. My co-worker keeps talking about how beautiful the winter light is. What light? I think.

He and the rest of the people in New Jersey were alarmed that on Christmas Eve, the temperature was near 70 degrees. “It’s not right,” they said. “It’s not like Christmas,” they said. I was ecstatic.

I might survive the sky darkening at four o’clock if it was at least warm outside. The mild holiday decorations in town didn’t lighten things up. They were too demure. But maybe “real” winter never would come!  Maybe it was all a hoax, that cold and snow thing that everyone warned me of. They seemed so disappointed that it hadn’t arrived yet. I slipped off to the warmth and long days of the tropics the week after Christmas, glowing with the infusion of sunshine, and thought I might be able to make it just fine through the “winter.” I was wrong.

Last week, the locals got their wish. The high was about 29 degrees. It was 11 degrees in the morning. I overheard a woman in the grocery store talking about how beautiful the day was. I thought schools should close. Everyone should stay home. Wasn’t that what the world was saying? Stay inside, make a fire, eat and sleep. Find another warm body to get next to. Drink a little whiskey. Don’t go outside where the air hurts. Wasn’t that common sense?

These descendants of Puritans, my neighbors, did not agree. “Layer,” they said. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing,” they said. The traffic kept streaming by my window, fast as ever.

“That’s a bunch of bullshit,” I said. “You don’t have to live like this,” I thought. I am not good at winter, or darkness, or cold of any kind. I am not good at layering or moving on as if nothing has happened.

I got a package in the mail from my friend Betsy, the first real live Manhattanite I ever met when I went to college. Betsy is best described as tiny, delicate looking, and tough as nails. She is the essence of New Yorker practical chic. The box she sent contained petal pink, thin silk long underwear and thick wool socks. When I thanked her, she said, “You have to find strategies for happiness.”

Now, wearing my long underwear and socks, I obsessively check online sites which monitor the sunrise and sunset in every city in the world. In Princeton, we are gaining a minute a day in the evening. Next week, we’ll gain two minutes a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. Presumably, that additional sunlight will add a tiny bit of warmth, at least.

There is something heartening about leaving work in the light, rather than the dark, even if that light is only struggling. There is something very important about having warm toes. The days will brighten. The new year has come. There is hope in silk long underwear and wool socks and friends who send them. There are seed catalogs, plans for summer, and warm bodies to get next to.


§ 6 Responses to Strategies for Happiness

  • Sheila says:

    Love it. The south misses you.

  • Marsha Michie says:

    I think that in contemporary society we willfully ignore the relationship our human selves have with climate and environment, and the effects that changing our physical locale have. There is clear acknowledgement of ‘culture shock,’ but having moved to a place where the seasons, the landscape, the plants, and the daily weather are all unfamiliar, I firmly believe that ‘eco-shock’ is just as important – maybe more so. It keeps you from feeling at home. One of the best remedies I’ve found so far, however, is forcing a new relationship. Gardening. Being outdoors at different times of the year. Being observant, asking about this tree or that flower or what the holy hell is that bug. Most of all, you start to appreciate the particularities and beauty of what you left behind, things you had stopped seeing and feeling and smelling long ago.

    • stephwhet says:

      Thanks, Marsha. Good idea. I’ll try it!

      • angie says:

        Hi, Stephanie, when Jubal moved to Portland, Ore (where it is dang dark for a long time!) I got him one of those light therapy lamps. He swore it helped a whole lot. (also, my experience from being in NYC in the winter is Keep your throat wrapped nice and warm when you’re out.) Hope you feel better soon. Love your writings. xxoo

  • robinmagee says:

    Marsha is right on. Also Betsy is indispensable. A pair of boots that keeps your feet warm & DRY is essential for being happy in the northern winter. They may not look beautiful but your feet will be happy. And hey, they are commuting vehicles (some folks like to stash professional shoes at the office during the winter). The wool socks I’ve found to be the warmest are SmartWool socks. They have lovely bright colors. I find them at hiking/outdoor stores. Sometimes you need layers of wool socks or 2 pairs (one pair for commuting & one pair for work). I like Betsy’s mantra, “finding strategies for happiness.” I found lunch time walks (daylight exposure) helpful too.

  • Beautiful, as always, Stephanie. Moving (especially moving north) is so hard. I’m still transitioning, too. I recently acquired snowshoes though. We’ll see how that goes!

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