What Those Winter Blues Can Teach You About True Happiness

Merry almost-Christmas. And happy all the other holidays, too. What I love about this time of year is it reminds me of dying. And lest you think I’m being a downer, bear with me.

What Those Winter Blues Can Teach You About True Happiness

All good stories involve dying. The often-literal death of a mentor requires the hero to grow and move on in his journey. But there is also the shedding of a character’s old identity in exchange for a new way of being. Not to mention, the loss of friends and foes throughout any adventure is a necessary part of the process. Death is a part of every great story, and so it must be for all great lives.

Winter is a wonderful picture of dying. When everything is shedding its skin, when the days are getting shorter and the weather getting bleaker, when all seems truly lost, something new is taking shape.

All good stories involve dying. Death is a part of every great story, and so it must be for all great lives, as well.

Jeff Goins

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The harshness of such a season, and the sadness it brings, is all part of its beauty. Personally, I am prone to those “winter blues” which hit us in different ways. Growing up in northern Illinois, where the temperatures drop well below zero degrees Fahrenheit, I would often hole myself up with a warm blanket and book, refusing to go anywhere beyond my immediate comfort zone. In a way, I was in denial of my reality. If my parents were not forcing me to shovel the driveway, I was not motivated to step out in to the outside world.

Today, I live in Tennessee and it’s “cold” this time of year, which means there is frost on the ground but by lunchtime I’ll be wearing a sweater and light jacket. Nonetheless, there is a gray haze right now covering everything you see. At this time of year, it can be tempting to stay inside, wondering, “What is the point?”

Whenever I feel this way, I want to shut down emotionally, take a shower, and go back to bed. But something inside me prevents this from happening. Whenever I bundle up and brave the cold (okay, these days there’s not much bundling, but you get the point), I witness another narrative, one that seems to contradict the surface-level story of death and dying all around.

I remember one January afternoon in high school when my friend Eric and I took our cameras out for the day to shoot a roll of black-and-white film. We drove to a nearby state park in my Ford Festiva, the heater barely able to keep up for the hour-long car ride. At the park, there was not much to shoot but snow-covered trees and hollowed logs. It was cold and windy, and there was no one else at the park but a couple of naive young men curious enough to engage with the world, taking whatever it had to offer.

Something sacred happened that day, and surely we didn’t know it.

This is the lesson of winter. Everything is, in fact, dying. Your old cells are disappearing into the newness of you. What once was is now fading away every single minute. And so, the only appropriate response to such death is grief. You should be sad. Things should feel hopeless. There is real loss that we are experiencing, as clear as a leaf turning brown and falling off a branch, as evident as an overcast sky that never seems to shine.

This season is a reminder of what the journey of life looks like, sometimes. When all seems lost, when the good guys are all but gone and evil will surely prevail, a miracle must occur. There is no other option. Despair is setting in, and there can be no way out.

This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for, when the hero reappears, rising from the ashes of defeat. Some secret chink in the enemy’s arm is revealed. We find an amulet possessing a mysterious power to restore all things. Perhaps, even a baby is born, and the weary world rejoices.

Soon, everything will be made right again.

This is the message of winter.

Whether you celebrate Advent or Hannukah or a week off of work, this is time of waiting. You cannot avoid it: this sense of longing, the anticipation of a new year, the desire for personal change. Something is about to happen. And we know it. This is the human condition, I think: to hope for what has not happened. In spite of all odds, we all have a sense that there is more to come, and the more will, in some way, be better.

We all have a sense that there is more to come, and the more will, in some way, be better.

Jeff Goins

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So as the color of the world fades away, know that something else is happening. Under the surface of a frozen earth, life is starting to bloom again—long before you see it. Spring is coming, and soon, the days will become longer and brighter. The same is true for your life. You are just now beginning to become what you were meant to be, waking up to who you already are. This is how all living things work. Parts of us fade while other parts are born.

As the year winds down and a new one approaches, consider what old thing in you is dying to make room for something new. Consider the possibility that this transformation is inevitable. You can fight the change and mutate the outcome, but you cannot keep it from happening. No living thing ever remains as it is; life is a process of change, and only death is static. And even then, the death somehow creates new life.

So, let me ask:

What is your work, your true work, the very thing that you are meant to do?

Now is a time to pay attention to these inner urges and intuitions, the still, small voice telling of some new thing wanting to be born in us.

For me, something that was recently reawakened was a love for poetry. I have always loved reading the work of poets but for a long time stopped writing my own poems. It was a practice that just seemed impractical. However, almost without my noticing, I started writing poetry again this year. It just sort of happened, and I think this is how growth occurs: imperceptibly in the margins of a mundane life until one day you can no longer not notice it. And so, I thought it was appropriate to share a poem I wrote with you that I wrote to make sense of some vocational shifts I was making in my life. This one is simply called “Your True Work” and maybe it will speak to you:

When you give yourself to your work
Your true work
When you finally settle into that place
Where what you do
And who you are
Coalesce
When you feel that familiar burn
And everything seems right
With the world
When the anxious desire to do everything you cannot
And be everything you are not
Finally subside,
When you give yourself to your work
Your true work
You will finally be
Free.

Have you found your true work?

Have you sensed that familiar burn?

What is waking up in you that must be birthed in this next season of your life?

I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment to let me know.

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