How to Beat the Wintertime Blues

Posted by Prince Gomolvilas
ON Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I started writing a post about depression more than a month ago, but I eventually abandoned it after several attempts at finishing it. After all, I thought, people visit Bamboo Nation for its desperate-yet-successful attempts to entertain and for its occasional intellectual stimulation, and that's all!

But after noticing a considerable amount of chatter in the blogosphere from people experiencing general existential malaise and after observing some of my friends' forays into dark nights of the soul, it became clear to me that something foul is in the air—and it's been affecting far more people than I had realized.

First of all, let me clear something up. I'm not talking about serious clinical depression here, and I'm not a doctor. So don't look to me for professional medical or psychological advice. In other words, don't sue me. What I'm writing about is what some people call the "wintertime blues" or "mild depression" or "bouts of sadness" or, if you want to get all technical, "seasonal affective disorder."

I've felt mildly depressed for the better part of a year (sometimes convincing myself to get up in the morning can be a challenge), but I've been in good spirits as of late and it's mostly because I've been implementing a couple of the techniques I've learned in my studies and travels over the years.

So I thought it would be beneficial to share how I am beating the blues—without the aid of antidepressants, which really aren't for me. (Jesus Christ, could you imagine me on prescription pills?! That's a recipe for disaster if there ever was one.) Perhaps some of you will find these two techniques—in addition to your own personal favorite treatments—helpful? (Those of you who are perfectly happy can skip this post and do a search for the toilet-training videos I put up.)

Technique One: Appreciate Something. Anything. You don't have to be some new-age nutjob (that's a term of endearment, by the way) or alternative healer or crunchy hippie or Eastern philosopher to believe that everything is energy. After all, at its core, Albert Einstein's famous equation, E=mc², expresses that succinctly. And Albert Einstein was a fucking genius.

[On a side note: It took me a while to realize that the idea of a person's "energy" and "reading" it is not some esoteric endeavor for those who believe in things like auras and chakras and stuff like that. In fact, I used to bristle anytime anyone would mention those kinds of things—it is in my nature to mock what can be mocked. But strip away all that terminology, and the idea of energy is pretty easy to understand.

What kind of energy you are projecting in any given moment is not a mystery. It's just that most of us don't pay attention to ourselves enough to notice.

Your energy, very simply, is translated through your body. Notice your body right now. Are you leaning forward? Slouching? Sitting up? Are you reading slowly? Skimming this text? Looking at some sentences over and over? Are you paying attention to just this post? Or are you also thinking about other things? Like getting something to eat? How cold it was today? The sound of cars going by outside? How are you feeling? Impatient? Relaxed? Confused?

Your body reads your energy, and, if you merely pay attention to your body, you can read your energy too—no aura or chakra expertise necessary. (And I still snicker at the thought of those things.)]

So if you've got a case of the wintertime blues, if you're feeling down, if you're on your way to becoming overwhelmed by negative emotions, all those things are translated into energy. And, as you can surmise, the quality of that energy is probably very dark, as dark as the cloud that you imagine is hanging over your head. So the question then becomes: "How do I change my energy?"

I have learned that the most effective way to transform your energy instantaneously is through appreciation. And the great thing is that what you appreciate can be anything. Literally anything. When a friend of mine called me recently in need of some words of comfort, I said, "Appreciate something. Anything."

In your sad state, you don't have to force yourself to try to find gratitude in "the beauty of life" or "the miracle of birth" or "the wonder of nature" or some such crap. You can appreciate the shirt you're wearing. The trash can in your kitchen. Staplers. Seriously. The palm of your hand. That bird that just flew by your window. Zac Efron's earlobe. The energy of appreciation is so abstract that appreciating anything results in the same outcome, leads to the same sense of temporary uplift. It neutralizes negative states.

The power of appreciation becomes clear when you look at the word itself and how it's used in the context of real estate. What does it mean, for example, for a house to "appreciate?" It means to increase in value or price, especially over time.

Most of us interpret the act of appreciation as being thankful for something, and it is—but we often lose sight of the second meaning. When you appreciate, you increase in value. In other words, the quality of your energy goes up, inflates, improves. And over time, it gets raised higher and higher, until your head is above the water and reaching for the sky.

Moments of appreciation can seem like short and trivial periods of relief that won't amount to much. But let me ask you: Is it better to feel shitty 99% of the time or 100% of the time? Don't you deserve at least 1% of the day when you're not stuck in unnecessary repetitive thoughts? And maybe the next day you'll convince yourself you deserve 2%, maybe more, who knows? You wouldn't expect a kindergartner to jump into college without the proper education. Allow yourself the same understanding—lifelong bad habits take time to let go. So:

Appreciate something. Anything.

Technique Two: Do Something You Love to Do. Anything. You may have read somewhere that most of the thoughts that we have in any given day are repetitive thoughts. That is, they are the exact same thoughts that we had the day before and the day before that and the day before that. You see, similar thoughts tend to group together like schools of fish, and these thoughts, in turn, lead to corresponding feelings. So, negative thoughts feed negative feelings and vice versa—and these types of thoughts and feelings are easily compounded.

Perhaps the most accurate description of how this works that I have ever come across is, surprisingly, Aimee Mann's startlingly astute song, "Momentum." The lyrics characterize how our problems—which spawn corresponding thoughts and feelings—snowball "for the sake of momentum." It may hurt, you see, but at least we're moving. In the chorus, Mann sharply sings, "Even when it's approaching torture/I've got my routine." Most of you know what that's like. Sometimes it's easier just to wallow in your misery. Listen to the song below. Lyrics are here. Listen:

It's exactly like Newton's First Law, right? The Law of Inertia states that "a body in motion continues to move at a constant velocity unless acted upon by an external force."

As I explained above, appreciation is an external force strong enough to push your energy in a different direction. But, as I also explained, appreciation lends itself to short, temporary periods of relief. I know some of you have "gratitude journals" (ah, the power of Oprah) or do "rampage of appreciation" exercises, but occupying your time with those things doesn't last very long.

So to stop the snowball effect for a longer period, my second technique is to do something you love to do. This is a way to connect back with that part of yourself that is untouched by worldly concerns, to help you return to your authentic and purest self, to put you back in touch with the real you.

First, you have to understand a fundamental truth: You are what you love.

In his brilliant book, How, Then, Shall We Live?, Wayne Muller devotes an entire section to exploring this question: "What do I love?" Here, he describes a visit to a couple of friends:

Gaylon took me aside to show me a selection of teapots they had collected in China. The pots were made of clay and were very old, some several hundred years old. Gaylon told me the Chinese say that after a hundred years of daily use, the pot becomes thoroughly seasoned. You need only pour hot water into the pot, and the pot itself will make tea.

When we do what we love, again and again, our life comes to hold the fragrance of that thing. When we hold something in our hands day after day, our hands conform to the shape of what we have held. We become what we have cared for; our lives are shaped by what we love....

With our every action, word, relationship, and commitment, we slowly and inevitably become what we love.

Many years ago, I had the good sense to make a list of all the things that I love to do. And for some time after that, it was always kind of in the back of my mind, this list. But after a while, the list just sort of slipped out of my consciousness, and it just sat in a folder on my computer.

While in a deep funk last year, I stumbled upon my list, opened it up, and realized something that almost brought tears to my eyes. Somewhere along the way, I had stopped doing many of the things that I had one time claimed brought me pleasure, gave me joy, made me happy. Every day I had multiple opportunities to check things off that list, but, here I was, letting weeks go by, letting months go by, without doing many of things I loved to do. Sure, there were some activities on the list that I did regularly—but other activities languished because they were being ignored.

Earlier, I wrote that I've been in good spirits lately. And when I sat down to examine why this is so, I realized the shift in my general mood coincided with one particular event. You might find this connection utterly preposterous, but, if you've known me long enough, you'll know why this makes sense. I started feeling better a couple months ago after the special two-hour 24 TV movie aired on Fox after the series had been on hiatus for a year-and-a-half. Seriously. It sounds lame, but I love that fucking show. And love counts for something, doesn't it?

Make a list of the things you love to do. And do them. Do not let a single day go by without doing several things on that list. And don't let some of the "bigger" ones wither and die.

When you're feeling down, doing things that you love to do will not only divert your attention away from things that ultimately do not matter, but they will also show you who you are—because, if you really think about it, the wintertime blues, depression, existential malaise, dark nights of the soul, bouts of sadness, all these things are, fundamentally, just complicated ways of asking yourself the same question over and over again: Who am I?

Do Something You Love to Do. Anything.

Look, I'm not suggesting that you ignore your woes. I mean, we all have problems, and we all have to deal with them. But it's very easy to fall into the trap of paying attention to our problems, of honoring our bad moods, to the exclusion of everything else. By all means, be blue. I mean, the greatest works of literature wouldn't even exist if artists were happy all the time. But c'mon. Even Chekhov had hobbies.

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  1. I dunno anything bout the "appreciating" part. However, the doing something you love thing- yeah I'm all for it.

    When my sister got married and eventually left the country, I went though a depression period cause we're really close. To get over it, I decided to read cause I have always like to do that. But life got in the way and at that point I havent read anything for at least a good 5 months so I started reading again. Realized how much I loved it and it did help me get over that depression I got goin on.

    So yeah, it helps.

    Also I am one of those ppl who believes in aura, karma and how the universe determines stuff for you. One day, I shall massage your aura for you. Ahem =p

    Thank you for this post by the way.


  2. How perfect and uplifting for the bleak January days ahead. Love it.

    This post is brilliant. I love it. Damn, you so need a book deal.

    BTW: Two (of my fav) books that your post reminded me of:

    (Regarding your energy theories)

    Ellen Gilchrist:
    Short Stories:
    Light Can Be Both Wave and Particle.

    (Regarding adding specific music to specific passages of literature)

    Joyce Maynard:
    Where Does Love Go?

    And, yes, all that energy and appreciation talk?

    It works.

    That having been said, I've never seen an aura as long as I've lived. Which is longer than most of your readers. This includes living in places where people didn't just have an aura, they had several. Still yet to see one. But, they did "appreciate."

    And there's some good ju-ju in this concept that works.

    People appreciate in Brattleboro, Vt.

    People appreciate in New Orleans, La.

    I'm working on people appreciating in Westminster, Ca.

    It's a powerful healing tool. So, I will be here now and apply the energy.



  3. Peter Varvel Said,

    I appreciate YOU, O Princely One, as well as your consistent willingness to sate the crack-addiction-like cravings of your loyal readers (such as the two Lovelies above).

    And thank you for further justifying this hedonist's lifestyle of always doing something that I love to do, as evidenced by the calluses on my right palm
    Even Muller confirms that when
    "we hold something in our hands day after day, our hands conform to the shape of what we have held."
    . . . 'the fragrance of that thing,' indeed.
    'And don't let some of the "bigger" ones wither and die.'
    Seriously, much gratitude to you!


  4. I believe we are all energy manifested from the same source. Nice post.

    "We are the thoughts we choose to entertain in our minds"

    -? (i don't know who said it)


  5. Cheryl Said,

    Not since preschool have I wanted so much to be a little teapot.

    And amen to the part about Chekov and hobbies. We wouldn't have fodder for art without pain, but we wouldn't be able to get out of bed and actually make that art without happiness.


  6. Chung Nguyen Said,

    Making a list of things I love to do as we speak....


  7. Annie Said,

    Loved this post. So much of this post reminds me of what I went through when I had my kid. It's so easy to forget what you love to do when you're exhausted. And then you just get in to a routine, a socially acceptable routine of giving your life over to your child. Pretty soon, its hard to remember what you "used to love to do."

    I grew up in Minnesota, so I am no stranger to the wintertime blues. And I had a bout with PPD (hard-core post baby blues) for which I could not (and, nothing against Brooke Shields, would not have anyway) take any pills. Here's how I beat it:

    Sunlight - it really, REALLY works.

    Walking - I prefer meandering through the streets of NY, but nature's okay, too.

    Comedy - the funniest shit I could find, several times a week, like therapy.

    Appreciation/Gratitude - yup, you were so right about that one.

    Cut down on sugar and artificial junk - not sure about anyone else, but it messes with my hormones, which makes me feel even more blue.

    Watch "Northern Exposure." But that's just me. It heals what ails me.

    I'm about to head in to my yearly bout with SAD. It always hits me about mid-Jan. I can fend it off with most of these remedies, but I still get a bit of it when the sky is dark and gloomy for months on end. During this time I pull out the big guns: double features of Oscar contenders at the multiplex.

    Best of luck with the blues, all.


  8. I wrote a bloggity the other day about how the simple scent of a candle brought to mind one of the happiest times of my life. On our drive home I was grinning ear-to-ear and hubby was surprised how my mood changed (really shitty day) after recalling the memory. Appreciating anything is so true.

    Thanks Prince, I am right there with you regarding 24. I am so excited. I freaking can't wait till Sunday!!!

    Thanks so much. xoxo


  9. Marisela Said,

    Awesome post, Prince.

    I too have a list of things that make me happy, one a large stickie with each item circled by a cartoon cloud. It gets lost every so often and then I find it again and always makes me smile.

    I had an epiphany a few months ago about the nature of happiness:

    Happiness is appreciating what you have, instead of concentrating on what you don't have.

    Perhaps overly simplistic. But the idea resonates with me.


  10. Thanks for your comments, everyone, and thanks for your additional coping mechanisms. Rock it!


  11. k. crow Said,

    I'm giving the jazz hands of approval to this post.


  12. Daniel Said,

    I simply use the advice from Dorian Grey 'Cure the soul by the senses and the senses by the soul'.
    Naive but it works.
    Feeling anxious or frustrated go for a walk - 'feel the sun on your face the wind on your hand'.
    Calm will filter in.
    Feeling bored and hollow - revisit something that inspires or inspired you or you know is uplifting - your energy will return.
    Nice Post.


  13. A belated thank you to K. Crow.

    And welcome, Dan!


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