January 29, 2011 lia

Happiness is hard work

I love seasons.  I spent 4 years on the equator, and it really reinforced in me that the temperate world is the most climatically variant.  The same place feels like four different places in just one year, and there is a constant sense of urgency to get the most out of the limited time you have to enjoy each season.

People behave differently in each season.  Spring is the rebirth — the party — when everyone sheds their winter layers, drag their couches downstairs and plop them down in the first sliver of sunshine they can find.  Summer is counter-routine — school’s out, friends are on holidays, you meet a lot of new people, and on a regular Tuesday afternoon, the park is filled with people who are supposed to be at work.  Autumn is the reset button, when everything settles back down, a routine is re-established, and you are reminded of the finite-ness of one’s day.  Winter is the time to hibernate, drink hot alcoholic liquids, and enjoy a whole new range of outdoor activities.

This is my first winter in 5 years, and after a heavenly Christmas at home, I returned to Amsterdam smack in the middle of the most depressing time of year in the temperate world: 3rd week of January until 3rd week of February.  Tis the season of whiners, and I couldn’t afford to listen.  Our toilet was still broken, the city workers shut off our electricity twice in two weeks due to road maintenance, we had no heat or hot water for 3 days and 3 freezing nights, and I was still waiting for clients to finalise contracts.  I had landed in Amsterdam after a restful Christmas with lots of momentum, and felt like I was facing opposition in all directions.  And everyone seemed to feel the same way.

We have to remember that this isn’t Amsterdam’s fault.  Everywhere sucks in January.  But suddenly all those Dutch quirks weren’t cute any more.  They were painful.  It’s like paying first world prices for third world services.  But Canada sucks right now too.  Remember that.  It’s just January.  Christmas and New Year are over, and the next national holiday isn’t until Easter.  Happiness and healthiness is hard work at this time of year — eat right, exercise, maintain connections with people, avoid whining and whiners, and get some artificial sunshine if you have to!

And then I remembered another Dutch quirk at this dark time of year: Carneval.  Carneval is like a much more appropriately-placed Hallowe’en, held in the bleak mid-winter rather than in the sea of celebrations that is Thanksgiving-New Year.  A taste of spring indulgence to get you through the worst and final spat of winter bereavement.

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