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EDITORIAL: Mindset the key to embracing winter with joy

We love to whine about the cold, but what if, instead, we were to change our frame of mind and seek out the fun.
SA-Tobogganing 4994 web
Cathy Mandel holds her daughter Ellie as they zoom down the hill behind Dr. Morris Gibson School on Jan. 2. With weather dipping below -20 C for over a week, many took advantage of the balmy -3 C to enjoy the outdoors.

We love to whine about the cold. From the first fluffy flake, it seems, the memes begin to pop up on social media and elevator chit-chat revolves around our vicious winter weather.

Complaints about shoddy snow removal begin to circulate, followed by side-eyed sneers at the neighbours who haven't yet shovelled, or worse, the ones who have shovelled, albeit onto the street. Next, enter the grumbling about drivers who notoriously follow too closely; speed on ice-covered, not-yet-sanded side streets; and contribute to enough near-misses to give even the most confident winter­ drivers anxiety on our roads.

All valid, warranted complaints. 

But what if, instead of lamenting our sub-zero climate as months we must painfully endure, we embrace the cold and all that comes with it?

For as many people there are out there who retreat and take cover for the icy half of each year, there are as many who make the most of it.

Yes, there are health risks to frigid conditions, and we would all do well to heed cold weather warnings. However, low temperatures can be good for us, too.

Despite the well-studied scientific reasons, of which there are many, including improved cognitive function, increased ability to burn calories, reduction in inflammation and some types of allergies, and improved sleep, there are a plethora of other reasons to celebrate winter.

Snow offers a good base for low-impact sports such as cross-country skiing and ice skating. It also provides plenty of free, accessible surfaces on which to do both. Let's not forget the fun of tobogganing, snow angels and building creatures out of the sticky stuff.

Hoar frost makes for gorgeous winter landscapes, a lovely backdrop for winter walks and stunning amateur photography, not to mention the northern lights and their haunting beauty.

Still not convinced?

Well, according to research from Tromso, Norway, located more than 300 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, the secret to finding joy during this icy season is in the way we look at it.

Residents of northern Norway seem better able to weather the wintertime suffering experienced elsewhere in the world. How do they do it? 

U.S. researcher Kari Leibowitz, funded by a grant, set off on a year-long study in 2018 to answer that question.

What she discovered was that, in this community, where there are only two seasons — a lengthy winter, where the sun doesn't rise at all from November to January, and a brief summer — the prevailing sentiment is that winter is something to be enjoyed, not endured.

She found that mindset plays a role in our ability to flourish throughout our country's coldest season, that the key to wintertime wellness is a small shift in how we see it. 

That's not to say perception is a cure for those with winter depression or seasonal affective disorder.But there is much to learn from leaning into winter, Leibowitz found, rather than heading into hibernation.

This wintertime mindset, she says, involves accepting that cold times can offer joy; dressing properly for the weather (yes, that means wool leggings under jeans); and getting out to seek those adventures that celebrate this time of year.

There are many more things to do than count the days until spring if we choose to see each of those days as an opportunity instead of a curse.