How to keep smiling when it’s light out only 9 hours a day
The playground is deserted with the exception of my toddler and me. It’s pitch black out and she’s clad in a puffy snowsuit, perched on a swing, under a glowing street lamp. You might guess the whole tableau is playing out at 9 p.m., well past her bedtime. You might question my parenting.
Actually, it’s not even 5 p.m.
These are dark times, specifically in the Northeast, where we are currently experiencing little more than nine hours of daylight in a 24-hour period, according to the National Weather Service.
And frankly, that sounds generous.
If you work indoors, which most people do in the winter in New England, it’s possible that you leave the house in complete darkness, only to return home in what feels like the dead of night.
Kids lose precious recreation time outdoors. It feels like a herculean task to go to the gym after work when the couch and Netflix and sweatpants are so much more seasonally compelling.
Occasionally I wonder if there’s something to be done about this. Should I invest in a special lamp to ward off seasonal doldrums? Book a sunny vacation? Relocate to Australia?
Because of budgetary constraints, I’ve settled on taking a vitamin D supplement. I don’t know if it does anything. I suspect it’s just another way to siphon my money into the Whole Foods-Amazon juggernaut.
And yet most of us need more than adequate stores of vitamins to boost our mood and break out of the winter doldrums. When I think about it, the winters when I’ve felt more like a functional human and less like a gargoyle have some key elements in common. I think of them as 5 Ways to Make the Most of the Least Light:
1. Have events or goals to look forward to. Trips (yoga retreat, anyone?), running races, or classes that light a creative spark — like dancing, painting, or cooking — might be just the thing to transform a sense of dread into a feeling of excitement or anticipation this time of year.
2. Get outside and experience any amount of daylight possible. Even if it means standing outside your office building during lunch like a lemur with your face to the sun, sipping coffee, it can help shake a funk. The two winters I spent training for the Boston Marathon were brutal weather-wise, but they went by quicker than any of the 18 years I’ve lived here. I credit being outside a lot and a training schedule that provided relentless structure and forward momentum. One foot in front of the other, so to speak.
3. Keep company with people (or dogs) who are impervious to the elements. All-weather running clubs, your neighbor with the energetic Labradoodle, your friend who surfs in Maine — and will tell you that the best surf season in New England is not summer, but the stormy, blustery conditions in fall and winter — are all good options. You’ll find that you can derive some inspirational warmth, or maybe just some comfort that you are not getting in the ocean today.
4. Get the right gear. Recently, our neighbor marveled at my daughter as she colored the driveway with giant sticks of chalk on a freezing afternoon. Again, she was in her trusty snowsuit. “I guess there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes,” the neighbor quipped. She makes an excellent point. Gear is key. And she commented on our girl’s heartiness, to which I beamed a little with New England new mother pride.
5. If you must stay inside, take advantage of seasonal activities like indoor rec leagues. Think: hoops, hockey, bowling, or, heck, knitting. Have you ever tried to complete (or start) a knitting project in July? Impossible.
But there’s only so much that hardcore gear and a hardcore attitude can do to help pass the weeks of scarce light. Fashioning our own opportunities for light-seeking is equally important.
Not long ago, I took a break from dashing through the errands of my day to wander into a hip secondhand boutique in the South End. I was supposed to be grocery shopping next door but alas detoured to the dress aisle. An exquisite designer dress in an unfussy silhouette and lightweight cotton fabric captured my attention. It may have been the single most perfect summer dress I’ve ever seen.
And yet, despite the obvious steal of a price, I hemmed.
“It’s a warm-weather dress. I just can’t justify it,” I explained to the sales associate.
“Oh, c’mon,” he coaxed, “It’s going to be spring in, like . . . two months!”
We both knew it was a lie and laughed. The afternoon sun beamed through the display window behind him, so that he appeared only an outline of well-timed Bostonian sarcasm. I left empty-handed, but I’ve been thinking about the moment ever since.
That, and a warmer time when I’d buy that dress in a flash.