Finding Joy in the Little Things in the Bleak Midwinter

Saturday, February 2, is the midpoint of winter, which means we’re halfway to spring.

I don’t care much for January and February. And I’ve been struggling to find my zen this past month. Maybe it’s the inevitable let-down after the fall (my favorite season) or the uncertainty of the year ahead that can sometimes seem daunting. Either way, there’s just something about this time that always feels a little off, and slightly melancholy for me.

And before anyone says anything, my feelings have nothing to do with the Indiana winter! Even when I lived in San Diego, I didn’t like the early months of the year and I had these same feelings of blah. And no matter how bleak the midwinter can be, you still couldn’t pay me enough to move back to California.

For the last two years at this time, I wrote blog posts about what’s saving my life right now. It’s a post that many bloggers write on February 2. The concept comes from author Barbara Brown Taylor. In her memoir, Leaving Church, Taylor tells about a time she was invited to speak, and her host assigned her this topic: “Tell us what is saving your life right now.”

The idea behind this prompt is most of us know what’s bothering us and can articulate all those things pretty clearly. But, she says, few of us stop to note what’s giving us life. What are these things — whether little or big — that are helping us live our lives?

I used this as a prompt in the drop-in writing happy hour I hosted this week, and asked the attendees to write about what the bleak midwinter means to them and what is giving them happiness. I participated in the writing exercise as well, and here’s what I wrote:

In the bleak midwinter … when it can be terribly cold, or not very cold at all, and the trees are bare and the skies are grayer than not, I find myself in a strange place. A place where thoughts can seem as dark and heavy as the January air. … So in the bleak midwinter, I’m grateful for roads. Open roads that appear endless. Roads that allow me to put one foot in front of the other, pressing on the pavement below and breathing in the cold air. Roads that feel like the key to freedom. Freedom from sad thoughts, negativity, and dark days when the sky doesn’t want to let the sun shine through its thick clouds. Freedom to think beyond what the mind will allow. I’m grateful for roads that will soon look like spring, in just a few short months.

For the last two years, I’ve enjoyed the exercise of reflecting on the things that make me happy at this time. It’s been comforting to go back and read these posts, as well as my daily perpetual journal, so I don’t focus too much on thinking that it’s only my current month that’s leaving me feeling this way.

So at this midpoint of winter, I’m writing down the little things that are giving me life today:

  • Running and moving outside
  • Listening to and discovering music, old and new
  • Teaching writing classes to adults and kids, and watching the wonder in their faces when they write
  • Listening to Sophie sing when she doesn’t think I can hear her
  • Spending time with my sister and watching Sophie play with her cousins, all of whom now live in Indiana
  • Writing in my daily perpetual journal and seeing how I felt on the same day last year and the year before, and seeing how much has changed in that space of time
  • Laughing and spending time with friends
  • The smell of a burning candle in my living room at night
  • Watching the birds fly on the tree outside my office window
  • Meaningful conversations with deep friends, both new and old
  • Writing and getting words on paper
  • Sunday afternoons spent laying on the couch, reading and listening to vinyl on the record player
  • Reading good books
  • Beautiful sunrises and sunsets
  • Soft falling snow
  • The visualization of winter
  • Writing about inspiring people and having the privilege to tell their stories
  • A hard cider at the end of a long day
  • A song with beautiful lyrics
  • The fireplace burning
  • Full moon shining in a clear sky full of stars
  • Chinese food
  • Trying hard to focus on how much can happen in a given space and time, and realize that there’s still so much time and life to come
  • Sun shining on the cold winter days
  • Knowing that spring is only a few short months away

Tell me what’s saving your life right now. Or better yet, make your own list!

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