Chun: Hot Chocolate and Low Expectations

by Steven Chun | 1/24/16 7:12pm

Winter is the season of doing nothing. Squirrels, hedgehogs, bears and even a kind of lemur recognize this and go into long periods of hibernation. In his article “In Case of Blizzard, Do Nothing,” David Dudley writes, “A snowstorm rewards indolence and punishes the go-getters, which is only one of the many reasons it’s the best natural disaster there is.” Winter term can feel like a 10-week blizzard, but with an intense lineup of classes and extracurriculars to accompany it. And, due to some great evolutionary tragedy, we do not hibernate. In fact, despite the pitfalls of the season, Dartmouth students seem to believe they can beat nature. I, too, thought I could outlast the season. It was a terrible idea.

Living in Hanover removes the barriers that a city — or really civilization in general — provides. We are under few illusions as to how miserable Mother Nature can make our lives. However, even those in population dense, urban areas feel the heat — or lack of. Snowzilla, also known as “Make Winter Great Again,” made this very clear as it pummeled the East Coast last week.

Despite our best efforts, we are always at the mercy of the seasons. And yet, we remain determined to maintain our densely-packed schedules. The cold, hard truth is that the only thing we should be “go-getting” is another flannel. It’s not just inconvenient to fight the winter but futile as well. Each and every time, we’re almost certainly going to lose. The battle goes beyond mindlessly moving between countless events. Instead, we derive satisfaction from a precise calculus, weighing the burdens of winter against the joys of over-achieving. If the math works out for you, I tip my furry, plaid hat at you. But for many, it doesn’t — and that’s okay, too.

This is not to say that being confined to dorms and classrooms is a pleasant experience. At best, it’s a valuable assessment of our mental well-being. A fundamental question accompanies the winter season: What do we think about when there’s less to do? It’s no secret that a hectic schedule numbs boredom and sadness. Winter is undoubtedly a less-than-cheery season for many, and our inability to keep busy may have something to do with it.

But fear not! Instead of succumbing to our fear of free time, I suggest we use winter as an opportunity to get back to the basics. The extravagant distractions of the fall and spring terms can be substituted for simpler, less eventful times. If we expect every winter’s day to be a bonanza of excitement, we will certainly be disappointed.

It’s a well-documented phenomenon that birth rates spike nine months after severe blizzards. In the face of Snowzilla or winter storm Jonas, dating sites have detected a huge spike in activity in New York. Enjoying the company of a significant other is perhaps the classic winter activity.

But enjoying winter isn’t the sole providence of lovers — it’s simply matter of getting used to no-frills fun. Parties don’t need more than three people and a night-out doesn’t actually have to be spent “out.” Winter isn’t about going above and beyond — as we’re so used to doing — it’s about being good enough. If you can hit that “just-enough mark,” then you should be satisfied.

One of the deadliest winter activities is shoveling. Nearly 100 people die each year in fruitless attempts to beat back winter. The cold and exertion of shoveling stresses the heart, sometimes leading to cardiac arrest.

Perhaps there’s some message in this tragedy. Avoid mental shoveling — the act of expecting great things out of a dreary winter day. Stay inside and weather the storm doing whatever makes you happy. Winter is a time for a little bit of low-level hedonism.

Between 10 and 20 percent of people nationwide suffer from mild Seasonal Affective Disorder. Bearing this in mind, the best thing we can do is just get by.

Dartmouth students like being good at things, including having fun. But, winter presents a wonderful opportunity rarely afforded to the students here — to be decidedly mediocre and enjoy it.