🌲🏔️Rewild yourself this winter
🌨️ Brisk and windswept adventures await
Hi you! I hope today’s Happiness Letter finds you in good spirits and good health. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere like I am, though, these dark, dreary days might not be inspiring much joy. So I thought I’d explore our connection to nature and weather, and how embracing it might be the secret to overcoming the winter blues.
January comprises some of the coldest, shortest days of the year. Research shows that our moods tend to reflect the weather; what researchers call “seasonal exacerbations of psychiatric symptoms.” Simply put, many of us find that darker evenings and miserable weather have a detrimental effect on our mental health and wellbeing. You’re not alone if your mood is worse and your anxiety is increased.
Shorter daylight hours and less sunlight reduce our levels of serotonin – a neurotransmitter that improves mood. For 5-10 percent of people, this may cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression prompted by the onset of winter.
The humdrum of hibernation
When the weather is gloomy, it’s consoling to retreat indoors and create a cosy refuge. We might snuggle under some blankets by the fire, perhaps with a pile of books to read or some shows lined up to binge-watch. While this scene sounds splendid – and rest and retreat are vital in winter – unfortunately, it’s only a matter of time before cabin fever sets in.
As winter drags on, what once felt comforting begins to feel stifling. We start feeling cooped up. Our favourite gentle diversions begin to feel wearisome and unstimulating. I won’t even get into the impact Covid lockdowns have had on our attitudes to being confined to our homes! Suffice to say, come January, we’re itching to escape our rut, and dreaming of brighter days outdoors – if spring would only hurry up. But why wait for springtime to rewild your life? A wonderland of winter adventure awaits!
Rewild your life regardless of the weather
What we fail to consider when we’re bundled up indoors feeling listless is that the greatest joy of hunkering down comes with first braving the elements!
Many of us agree that time spent in nature improves our mood. But if we wait for the perfect conditions to enjoy nature, we spend very little time enjoying nature. As wildlife writer Simon Barnes puts it:
“Outdoor life will involve you in inclement weather. The weather tells us if we should be indoors or outdoors. The weather tells us how much we are to enjoy ourselves. The weather orders us home or into shelter. The weather can take all the pleasure from the outdoors. However, if you restrict yourself to nice days, you spend a lot of time indoors. A lot of time not being wild.”
Simon Barnes - Rewild Yourself (Simon & Schuster, 2018)
You may feel less-than-motivated to venture outside when it’s windy and raining, but getting outside and out of your comfort zone can help to combat the winter blues. This is thanks in part to what social scientists call the novelty effect, in which things that are new and fresh can make us feel good.
The Nature Fix
In her book The Nature Fix (WW Norton & Co, 2017), Florence Williams makes a compelling argument for time outdoors and uncovers the science behind nature's positive effects on the brain. Studies featured in The Nature Fix found that time spent in nature improved the moods of research participants – even in inclement weather.
And participants who spent time walking in nature during “lousy winter conditions” benefitted from the experience, performing better on tests of memory and attention.
Opportunity for social connection
The Nature Fix also features research that shows social walking in nature boosts your mood. So, a wintry walk with friends is one of the best ways you can increase your happiness this week. Carey Davis, editor of the Great Outdoors Magazine, is a fan of winter treks with friends: “A sense of shared adventure with good company can not only carry you through bad weather but even add to the fun,” he says.
Friluftsliv: ‘Out on hike, never in a bad mood’
The Scandinavian concept of friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-liv) translates as ‘open-air living’ and is an essential part of life in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark – countries which frequently rank among the happiest in the world. Embracing the outdoors and staying active is important to Scandinavians, no matter the time of year.
Norwegian Karen Dolva, an interaction designer and one of BBC's 100 Women of 2020, says:
“While it may not seem all that appealing to go outside for any prolonged amount of time when the weather is grey, cold, and wet, we Norwegians have a saying: ‘Ut på tur, aldri sur’, directly translating to ‘Out on hike, never in a bad mood.’ This basically means you never regret going out… Being outdoors and together is where some of the happiest memories are made.”
Make some happy memories this winter!
Feeling inspired? Here are some activities to persuade you outdoors:
Foraging (The Forager’s Calendar by John Wright is a wonderful guide.)
Tracking in snow
That’s all I’ve got! I’d love to hear what winter activities you enjoy/endure! You can comment on this post by tapping the 💬 icon below, or reply by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.