Monday, February 24, 2014

Winter Blues or Winter Cheer? The Choice Is Up to Us.

“Cheerfulness, it would appear, is a matter which depends fully as much on the state of things within, as on the state of things without and around us.”       --Charlotte Bronte

“Since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” 

Before you throw a snowball my way to get me to stop singing, you have to admit this song perfectly captures the reality around here this winter.  We are six weeks into an unrelenting mix of sub-zero temperatures and snowfall, day after day after day after day. Even last weekend’s thaw created a different set of challenges: sagging roofs, flooding basements and tumbling icicles. Almost sixty inches of the white stuff has fallen and we’ve been buffeted by ultra-frigid temperatures and yes, there is more to come.

So thanks polar vortex. Thanks Weather Channel and hyperbolic TV weather folks for so gleefully pumping up all these now named storms—HERCULES! ION! ELECTRA! LEON! (Ok: maybe that last one isn’t so scary but you get the point.)

Many of us?  Most of us? We are done with winter. I know I am. In keeping with my “cranky Yankee” nature I claim my absolute right to complain to any and all who’ll listen.  Let me kvetch, moan, whine, and yell about winter. Wave a white flag and surrender, though given the snow drifts no one will see me. 

Admit it. Such wintry whining has been a main topic of conversations, or in a status update on Facebook, or an email or text to a friend.  You’ve snapped off a string of “expletive deletives” when your ice scraper broke in half or the kids got another snow day and they tore the house apart or the town plow guy ruined your just shoveled driveway.

There’s nothing like such righteous weather anger.  But then one recent snowbound night, I came across a Facebook post by my mid-western friend, Jen. She’s a fellow newspaper columnist and lives in chilly Rochester, Minnesota. Along with being home to the world famous Mayo Clinic, Rochester is also known for some of the coldest and snowiest weather in the United States. 

Last week, as she and her family hunkered down for yet another blizzard, Jen wrote, “Whatta night! Lost power at about 8 p.m. and didn't come back until about 4 a.m. As soon as it popped back on, I thought about those poor Rochester Public Utilities employees who were out in the blizzard so I could have heat again. Heroes!”

Was that cheerfulness I detected?  Gratitude even?  A positive vibe in the midst of howling winds and blowing snow and a blackout? Investigating deeper I could find nary a complaint or whine anywhere on her page.  Heck, one night when the temps there hovered in the single digits, she reports her family played something called “ice bowling” in their arctic backyard!      

Where’s the outrage?

Maybe it’s Jen’s “Minnesota Nice”. Visit the North Star state as a stereotypical negative northeasterner, and you quickly encounter people there who are actually nice! Polite.  Helpful. But I think with Jen it goes much deeper. She’s cheerful.  Really cheerful.  One of the most upbeat folks I know. Always looks for the best, even in a bad situation. Knows just what to say to pick other people up.  Has a mile wide smile that’s catchy. Has a good heart.

After seeing how she deals with winter and life, it made me reconsider why I couldn’t be more cheerful too, and not just in February, but all year long.  If we are blessed, we do know cheerful people like Jen who make life better by being a bright light, who simply cheer us up.

Like the kid who joyfully insists on building yet another snowman. The neighbor who, unasked, helps push our car out of the snow bank.  The plow operator who shows up and does a great job faithfully.  The spouse who has dinner waiting for us, after we’ve sat for hours in an epic traffic jam.  Smiles. Good cheer. Small acts of kindness, but so powerful.

As humans we often have little or no control over what happens in our world. The weather, work, relationships? Unpredictable. What we can seek to control is the attitude we bring to each day, the “frame” through which we see life. We can choose to see the good or the bad.  Choose to honor the best in people or cynically expect the worst from folks.  Choose to focus on what we do have rather than what we lack. Choose to build up people or tear them down, all by the power of our speech. Choose to smile or to frown. 

Not easy.  Not for us sharp edged New Englanders, especially in February.  But I’m willing to give it a try, to be more cheerful. 

“Massachusetts Nice”? Hey: since spring is coming in just four weeks, anything is possible. Thanks Jen.




  1. I take heart in the fact that the sun is not setting in Boston today until 5:27pm. The sun is shining longer and longer on all those drifts of snow...