A few years ago, I saw a map of the United States that indicated where people were considered the happiest. The Midwest was indicated as the happiest, while just about anywhere with a warmer climate was considered the least happy. I thought this was strange because I am definitely at my happiest when I am warm, but maybe that is because I’m a teacher, which generally means if I am warm, I am also not spending my days with a bunch of teenage goobers.
So I came up with a completely unscientific theory that is backed with zero data outside of my own observations. That theory is that people who experience seasons where they live are able to apply the knowledge that seasons come and go to the seasons of their life, which makes them more resilient when things are hard. However, when I recently explained this theory to a friend who is from New Jersey and lived in Miami before making his way to Wisconsin, he informed me that he is pretty sure that people in the Midwest are happiest because of their proximity to cheese. If you are pretty sure that is the queso (see what I did there?), you should maybe stop reading here.
I suppose we first have to examine what happiness even is, and I don’t believe that anyone can actually summarize that and tie it up with a nice, pretty bow. To me, happiness is not having everything be perfect. In fact, it is far from it. My happiest moments, more often than not, stem from my hardest moments and most certainly, my hardest moments make me soak in my happiest moments when they happen.
“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'” Kurt Vonnegut
The past few days, there have been record breaking temperatures in Wisconsin. After living here for eight years, I’m used to record breaking cold temperatures in the winter, but never anticipate busting out my emergency picnic blanket (yep, that’s a thing I have) before the annual nationwide ACT test day snowstorm (also a thing). I knew that the warm sun on my skin was fleeting so I made sure to soak up every possible second of it all and attempted to do all of my favorite warm weather activities. Morning cups of coffee on my balcony, long walks and talks (on the phone) with my best friend and my dad, and laying in the sun with a good book. Unfortunately, a winter’s worth of melted snow makes hiking trails a bit messy and no one puts their outdoor seating out when it’s going to snow in a few days, but it was a nice reminder that beautiful spring days aren’t far off.
“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” Hal Borland
During the dark and cold days of winter, I think of this quote often. My opinion on winter? The first snow is magical. Snow on Christmas is mandatory (although Mother Nature often disagrees). I love a well-timed snow day. This year I used one to get my taxes done, like the real adult that I am. My closet is well stocked with boots, sweaters, and scarves. As soon as the novelty of all of those things wear off, though, the long, cold, dark days of winter weigh heavy on my heart, especially in recent years. There are times where it feels like maybe the warmth and sunshine might not come back, but it always does.
I have learned that this is how life goes as well. There will be dark days, days where you feel like the sun might not return and you might have to trudge through the murky snow with your heavy heart for the rest of your days, but just like clockwork, the days start getting longer, and you start feeling the warmth of the world again. During those beautiful, wonderful moments, you remember that the warmth won’t last forever and there will be hard days ahead, but there is a special comfort in knowing that those won’t last either.
I am glad to have been born and raised in the Midwest, where I’ve learned all about how to weather all sorts of storms, how magical the rebirth of spring is, the feeling of a hot summer day, and the clarity that the changing leaves in the fall always brings. I am also glad to have lived a life that has had heartache, loss, and personal storms. Because I have experienced those, I know just how very sweet the sunshine is.