Happiness: Some Assembly Required

By Lynda Heller
Opinions Editor

Winter is always a bleak time of year, but this winter is the winteriest-winter I have ever seen. Everything is wet, slow, and sloshy. On the rare occasions when the ground is not mushy, it is very hard and slippery. It is a difficult time of the year. All over campus, it seems spirits are low. Students walk quickly and carefully, with their heads down to shield their faces from the wind. Starlings huddle sadly in treetops. The back-forty looks absolutely drained of colors.

Biologically, winter is a time of waiting. Almost all life pauses, waiting for the earth’s tilt to bring us back toward the sun. I don’t think that humans should be half as active as they are at this time of the year. Every other organism is conserving food and warmth, sleeping the days away. Foolishly, humans have obligations like classes and work, which seem detrimental to survival but which still must be attended to. We must get through winter, and unfortunately we are supposed to do so in a conscious state. I believe that there are ways for us to be happy even in this dreary season.

I once watched a Ted-Talk in which David Steindl-Rast shared his secret to contentment. To paraphrase, Steindl-Rast said that happiness is not proportional to the blessings in a person’s life but instead to the gratitude that he or she has. Basically, we can gain control of our moods by changing our reactions to events. This is wonderful news for us. After all, we can not change events. We can not bring the leaves back by wishing for them, but we can stop wishing for them. Instead, we can appreciate the pointed glory of the icicles growing off of roofs. We can be grateful for those who plow the sidewalks so that we don’t get snow in our boots. In winter, more than any other time of the year, we can be thankful for our warm shelters, and hot showers.

For some of us, cultivating gratitude can be hard. There are some practical ways that one can make winter more bearable. Light your room well. Dimly- lit rooms make one feel tired and irritable. After all, seasonal affected disorder has been linked to shorter days. The cure is obviously to get some more “sunlight”. You can also increase the bright colors in your life. Eat oranges.

You can bring a little spring to your room by getting plants. I recommend going all out here: get a plant and love it excessively. Name it, talk to it, and baby it. Since we aren’t allowed to have kittens on campus, make your plant a surrogate cat. If your roommate becomes concerned for your mental health then your goal has been achieved.

It is possible that none of these things will work for you. Maybe color hurts your eyes, and you are allergic to all plant life. Maybe your car is snowed in and your heater breaks. If everything goes wrong, and you can’t find anything to be happy about, then don’t give up. Make happiness for someone else. Bake a cake for your roommates, and clear the ice off a stranger’s car. Live generously, and you will find joy.

As I write this, the sun is setting, reflecting a blue tint off the snow. A starling is building a nest in the hole in the tree outside my window. Spring is coming, but I am going to stop waiting for it. The palate of winter is not colorless, and there is happiness to be made, right now.

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