What darkness tells us about the future

Boats Norway Light Island Islets Sea Night

The days are getting shorter, dark times are upon us for the next few months. Soon, we will change back to Winter Time and the media will inundate us with tips on how to deal with the depressive months of November to March. Depressive? Sure, in a world where everything is optimized, anything below 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 10 hours of sun is a major problem. In hysterical times we are always looking for dangers. In the end, we will all die, if not by terrorists, the darkness will get us.

I was reminded of a story about the city of Tromsø, the largest dark winter city in Norway:

Tromsø, for those who don’t live in Norway, is above the Arctic Circle. At Tromsø’s latitude, 69 degrees, the sun sets at the end of November and doesn’t reappear until mid-January. That’s right, roughly 49 days where the sun never rises over the horizon.

Leibowitz, an American psychology student, became curious about how people in Tromsø managed to avoid the winter blues. She was so fascinated by the question she spent an academic year in the city after completing her undergraduate degree in psychology. As a US-Norway Fulbright fellow, she worked with Joar Vittersø, a psychologist at UiT-The Arctic University of Norway, whose research areas include quality of life and positive psychology.

“It seemed like the perfect place to test just how adventurous I really was, while also providing a unique population for a psychology research study,” Leibowitz wrote in a recent article in The Atlantic magazine about her experience. “How do the residents of northern Norway protect themselves from wintertime woes? And could these strategies be identified and applied elsewhere, to the same beneficial effects?”

Leibowitz came to understand quickly that her research was based on an assumption that people hate winter. Not so much in Norway:

Leibowitz and Vittersø found a correlation between how far north people lived in Norway and how positively they viewed winter and winter darkness.

More importantly, “Vittersø and I found that positive thought patterns in winter were related to life satisfaction, positive emotions and seeking challenges that can lead to personal growth,” Leibowitz said.

Vittersø emphasizes that the study has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and that the correlations they found do not mean causation.

Nevertheless, he says that the study suggests what might make life easier for Norwegians during a time of year that most people don’t really like.

“We who live in Norway are probably not aware that we see so much to enjoy during the winter, because it is so normal for us,” Vittersø said. “But it is probably much less common to look at winter this way elsewhere in the world.”

It’s an intriguing study on the adaptability of human beings and our inner freedom. Norwegian citizens see the best sides of winter by transforming their mind into positive acceptance. Instead of whining (“It’s going to be dark for so many hours”), they adjust their reality to new possibilities. This Possibilismus, the philosophy of possibility, is in contrast of optimism and pessimism: It’s a creative force that shines a new light on the world. Light only shows its real beauty in darkness.

Paying attention to what we are paying attention

When we turn off the constant stream of the fear-mongering machine, we wake up in a reality where real relationships matter. Reality returns, changeable reality, a world we can make a difference in. That’s the opposite of post-factual. We return to liveliness. It doesn’t ignore the world, it gives us the freedom to interpret reality without intervention and intrusion.

The inventor of the term ‘mindfulness’, Ellen Langer said:

“The more we realize that most of our views of ourselves, of others, and of presumed limits regarding our talents, our health, and our happiness were mindlessly accepted by us at an earlier time in our lives, the more we open up to the realization that these too can change. And all we need do to begin the process is to be mindful.”

When we are blind to our inner workings, we allow the past to dominate the present and the future.

Immanuel Kant said: “Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.” Jesus said: “Do not be afraid”. He isn’t telling us to never fear; he’s telling us we don’t have to stay in the fear. Feel it, but leave it. Acknowledge it, but don’t live in it.

Fear makes us close our doors. Fear makes us turn our backs. Fear makes us focus on protecting ourselves, causes us to eye others with suspicion, leads us to think of our own needs. We react to problems when we let fear take hold.

Hope, on the other hand, encourages us to open up. Hope encourages us to turn toward each other. Hope encourages us to be generous, see the beauty in other human beings, reminds us to care for the least of us. We are able to respond when we let hope lead us.

Change is in the air. There is growing opposition against being afraid of fear, being overfed by media and news. Dangers, exaggerations and conspiracies. Since 9/11, an influential “fear industry” has taken root in the media and other opinion-shaping institutions and groups. It has consistently moved toward ever-greater gloom and hysteria, knowing this is the best way to get attention in a crowded marketplace of ideas. In today’s competitive information environment, extreme positions and amplified fear sells more advertising and wins a larger market share than balanced moderation. So far, much of the public has bought in. But I see small signs that people don’t want to be afraid anymore, they discover that social networks have turned into weapons of mass fear-mongering and distraction. That the dark seasons are for connecting with people again.

The confirmation quote I chose almost 40 years ago was: “And now these three remain: Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Almost everything has changed since I chose the quote. But my belief in those words has never been stronger.




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