Short days and COVID-19 lockdowns led Stanford scholar Kari Leibowitz to study wintertime mindsets in Norway and found that positive beliefs and attitudes create an overall well-being during dark winter months. Read more about the Winter COVID-19 blues in Norway.
In Norway, as in many other countries, restaurants, bars and movie theaters have been shut down for several months and indoor gatherings have been restricted. How do Norwegian handle this in addition to a cold and dark winter?
Some years ago health psychologist Kari Leibowitz traveled from Stanford, California to Tromsø, two hundred miles north of the Arctic circle to learn more about how Norwegians handle the dark months. As a part of a United States-Norway Fulbright research grant she went to the world’s northernmost university, where the sun doesn’t rise at all for two months.
In spite of this, she learned that residents of the city have low rates of seasonal depression. In fact, a study by May Trude Johnsen at the University of Tromsø, found that the citizens’ wellbeing barely changed across the year. Also, Leibowitz realized that people with a positive wintertime mindset affected their wellbeing, including life satisfaction and personal growth.
Embracing winter is a hallmark of Scandinavian family life
Even in the daytime when it’s dark and snowing, kids play outside at school, wearing light-reflecting vests. According to the Swedish author Linda McGurk, author of “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather”, you can still cultivate a positive wintertime mind-set as an adult.
What might we learn from the Norwegians’ psychological resilience?
Leibowitz’s findings build on decades of previous research showing that the mental framing of stressful events can powerfully influence the ways we are affected by them. People who see stressful events as “challenges”, with an opportunity to learn and adapt, tend to cope much better than those who focus more on the threatening aspects.
Norway has a concept called friluftsliv, which translates roughly to “open air life”. “The way Norwegians are brought up with the strong cultural tradition of friluftsliv is key to understanding our (generally quite positive) mind-set,” says Per Kåre Jakobsen, assistant professor and researcher at the University of Tromsø.
To test whether a difference in outlook could also explain the resilience of Tromsø’s residents, Leibowitz designed the “wintertime mindset scale”, which asked participants to rate how much they agreed or disagreed with statements such as
- There are many things to enjoy about the winter
- I love the coziness of the winter months
- Winter brings many wonderful seasonal changes
- Winter is boring
- Winter is a limiting time of year
- There are many things to dislike about winter
Leibowitz found that Norwegians saw the dark winter as an opportunity to do lots of things they love, like cross-country skiing, watching the Northern Lights and cozy time indoors.
By recognizing our own capacity to control our responses to the COVID-19 lockdown and the changing seasons, we may all find some hidden reserves of strength and resilience to see us through these difficult times.
About Kari Leibowitz
Leibowitz is a PhD candidate in social psychology at Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences, where she is researching psychological and social forces in health care, with a focus on the doctor-patient relationship. Leibowitz also works with Stanford psychologist Alia Crum in the Stanford Mind & Body Lab, where they study how mindsets can make a positive difference to emotional and physical well-being. Kari is available for select collaborations, media requests, speaking engagements and workshops. To learn more, or to bring her to your team or organization, contact email@example.com
Winter COVID-19 Blues in Norway, written by Tor Kjolberg