If you’ve ever woken up to the drumming sound of rain on your rooftop and instantly felt fed up – well, you’re not alone. According to UK research, four in ten adults in the UK feel less happy in winter than they do in summer. ‘Shorter’ days featuring less hours of sunlight were also voted the biggest bugbear with 48% of people saying they would rather hibernate through the winter season. Rainfall is increasing globally too; according to the Met Office, warmer air can hold more water, so with each degree of global warming, the atmosphere can hold 7% more moisture. Whilst we’re never going to be able to control the weather, could we instead learn to control our feelings towards it?
The results of this year’s World Happiness Report certainly suggest so. Finland was found to be the happiest country for the fourth year running – despite experiencing 181 rainy days a year on average. Also in the top 10 were Iceland, Denmark and Norway; all of which are in the Arctic circle and experience polar light - a period of up to four months where the night-time lasts for 24 hours. Instead of wishing the winter away, Scandinavians have learnt to embrace the season in all its ‘gloomy’ glory. In Norway and Denmark, rain isn’t a reason to feel down, it’s an excuse to get hygge. Surrounding themselves with the glow of candles, fake fur throws and indulging in decadent warm drinks has become a way of life, and candles aren’t just for the evening. Psychotherapist and writer André Radmall says that rather than just making things visible, “lighting creates atmosphere – a space for people to feel warmth when it’s cold.” Lighting candles on rainy days will add a glow to the gloom and lift your energy.
Don’t always blame the weather
Some research even suggests low moods in the winter are less a result of what’s happening outside your window and more what’s happening inside our heads. We associate sunshine with positive moments like holidays and picnics with friends, whereas cloudy days conjure up memories of cancelled plans and getting caught in the rain. Rather than the feeling of sun on our skin, is it actually just summer’s social events that we’re craving? If so, could we retrain our brains to attach more upbeat associations to wet and windy days? For instance, many people would say the festive period in December is a highlight of their year. For others it might be Halloween or Thanksgiving. What if we started to see the nights drawing in and the drop in temperatures as stepping stones towards the holiday season – a handy prompt to start arranging seasonal activities like tree decorating, pumpkin carving or evening walks with a flask of hot chocolate.
This certainly seems to be the Scandi approach. “Scandinavian social culture is deliberately not defined by the weather,” says Radmall. “By still getting together with friends, they find their own warmth in social interaction”. Rather than making your plans weather dependent, Radmall suggests arranging a plan B in case of rain. Planning a walk or outdoor sports on the weekend with friends? Then also agree an alternative indoor activity like bowling or ice-skating just in case. Over time, this will create more positive associations for ‘bad’ weather and lessen your negative feelings to the sound of rain on the window.
In fact, it could even be that our antipathy to winter weather is misplaced. Research has shown there to be a link between high temperatures and aggressive behaviour, with one study published by the Journal of Public Economics revealing that crime in Los Angeles increases by up to 10% on extremely hot days. Another study found that 27% of people hate summer and perhaps more shockingly, that suicide rates are higher in sunnier months. Though experts aren’t entirely sure why, theories include a link to the added social pressures and even allergies worsening depression. With this in mind, the next time you hear the rain at your bedroom window, try and counteract that ‘grass is greener’ mindset and count your blessings you’re not sunburnt, covered in insect bites or puffy eyed from pollen.
Retraining your brain
Leanne Astbury, a psychotherapist specialising in CBT, promotes using gratitude to combat negative thoughts at times like this. She suggests “thinking about the things in your life you are grateful for such as your warm bed, your home and your family’. Instead of fearing being splashed by a puddle on your way to work, think of sitting in a cosy room full of candles later, the approach of holiday season or trying out that new winter recipe you’ve saved. In his book The little book of Hygge, Meik Wiking writes “Our lives are not the days that have passed, but the days we will remember forever.” Rather than a missed opportunity, your next rainy day is a chance to make memories. What will you do with yours?