This time of year is why people knit afghans.
It’s why there are mini-marshmallows and fat candles and long recipes for soup that start with soaking dried beans for 12 hours.
This is the season of hibernation, when we feel gently compelled to hunker down, to snuggle in, to stare into a fire’s embers or whatever’s streaming on Netflix.
Remember the news a few weeks ago about the bear Up North that attacked a dog and three men? The bear was a surprise, because it should have been hibernating. But its aggressiveness also was unexpected.
See what happens when we resist nature’s rhythms?
Humans can’t hibernate as bears do, of course, because we lack the ability to go dormant for a long stretch. While plenty of research supports the value of an afternoon nap, that quick snooze only re-energizes us for the rest of the day.
Maybe we once hibernated, back when we, too, were at the mercy of the elements, when caves were cold, firewood scanty, food scarce and geese still were the sole possessors of their down.
But then we kept evolving, going on to invent furnaces, grocery stores, insulation, long underwear and cocoa. Also mini-marshmallows. With our opposable thumbs, we learned to wield knitting needles.
It’s thrilling, really, what humanity has accomplished in a few odd millennia. But we’ve let things get out of hand. We rarely slow down anymore. And when we do, we fret.
Get outta here!
The average U.S. employee with a paid vacation takes only half of it each year, according to a recent study by the career website Glassdoor.
Why? The study found that many fear falling behind at work, followed by the belief that no one else can do their job (followed by the fear of learning that someone else can indeed do their job).
But we’re sabotaging ourselves. Taking a break actually helps us become more successful. The Harvard Business Review spelled it out in an article, “Resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure.”
In short, if we deny ourselves stretches of recovery time, we increase our chances of screwing up at work or — just as bad, maybe worse — screwing up at home.
So let’s consider the question of recharging not in week’s vacation doses, nor in 20-minute naps, but rather in a seasonal state-of-mind shift into slow.
Come on, you know you want to.
Made for Minnesota
Happily, our winter climate is made for slowing down.
In January, there is no spontaneous dashing out to run a quick errand, given the ritual donning of scarves, balaclavas, glove liners, mittens, parkas, socks and mukluks. Maybe even wind pants.
We must plan our outings to make them as efficient as possible. This may involve making a list, which may require a moment’s reflection, which may lead to staring out the window at squirrels as they scrabble after each other for no discernible reason.
They never stop! Do they know how ridiculous they look? As if running around looking busy fools anyone.
Don’t misunderstand. Slowing down doesn’t mean stopping. Human hibernation is more about spending time at a different pace, doing less for a while, or doing anything more thoughtfully.
Nor is this shift a Zen-fest, vision-quest, epiphany-producing exercise. You don’t need to think deep thoughts, or think about much at all.
We actually were introduced to this pace last year when “hygge” hit the headlines as a rediscovered lifestyle trend. Nordic in origin — Danish, specifically — it’s a way of living with a sense of conviviality and comfort. Lots of candles are involved, providing psychic warmth.
Hygge can be a private pursuit, but it also encourages gathering with friends for conversation, for board games, for supping soup that began by soaking dried beans for 12 hours. Because what’s the rush?
Bottom line: Whether you call it hygge or hibernating, this is the time of year to do whatever brings you a sense of quiet satisfaction. Maybe it’s puttering about the kitchen, chopping vegetables for that soup, or cleaning out the junk drawer.
Maybe it’s sorting through old photos and letting yourself get sidetracked by memories. If you don’t complete the task, that’s OK. You can’t flunk hibernation.
Maybe instead of bundling up to shop for groceries or clothes, you shop your house, rediscovering sweaters you forgot you owned, making something from the cans of tuna that have accumulated, deciding there’s no time like the present to thaw the steaks you were saving for some special occasion.
Maybe it’s letting the kids see you sprawled on the sofa listening to your favorite old album/download with no other distractions — no phones, no screens. Only ears.
Just don’t make them listen with you. You can’t force someone to slow down. You can only let them witness your contentment. Plant the seed.
Because sooner than we realize, seeds will need planting, the metaphorical ones that drive progress as well as the actual ones that make green beans.
For now, though, it’s January.