Heliophobes & Umbraphiles

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I’ve been reading a book that’s got me looking at how I explain things to myself. And how everybody else does. The book’s called Learned Optimisim and one of the fascinating things its psychologist author says, is that we each have a style of explaining events and phenomena to ourselves—and that style can either do us in or keep us going.

It’s complex and fascinating, but basically, he’s saying that if we explain things to ourselves pessimistically, we may think we’re wise and cool, but we’re shooting ourselves in the foot, day after day. Optimists live longer, have more fun, and are a lot more successful. And you can learn to explain life to yourself optimistically.

I’ve started applying this explaining idea to one of life’s recurring events— the weather. Here in the maritime northwest, our weather is explained to us all wrong; so I’ve started explaining it to myself right.

For a lot of committed north-westerners, the weather right now is a problem. The sun is shining. Every day. You know, you wake up and there it is. Again. It’s up there for hours, making you squint, making you give up your flannel shirt, sometimes, would you believe, even making you hot. At our house, people start getting surly when the temperature approaches 80.

Until I started reading Learned Optimism, I explained myself as a heliophobe, a sun hater. But now I get it—what I really am is an umbraphile, a lover of greys and shadows. And now I know that it’s important to remember that these warm sunny days will go away, very soon, and won’t come back for a long time.

I know gray sky lovers aren’t a fringe minority here—this place is full of natives and converts who are fellow umbraphiles. So who are these people who write the weather reports and where do they come from? And why are people who seem to equate Tucson-style weather with “good” living here, where they only get to sound pleased 55 times a year?

That means that 310 times a year weather reporters are saying stuff like, “Sorry everybody. This drizzle is going to hold right through the weekend and we’ll still have gray skies on Monday and Tuesday.”

Hiss. Boo. This is the Pacific Northwest. Rain is good. Gray is gorgeous. Clouds are beautiful.

So don’t buy that kind of explaining of our weather. It’ll make you crazy. And depressed. You’ll get gloomy and be a drag and probably lose your job and your lover. Even if you’re not already an umbraphile, try explaining the weather in a way that makes you feel good about it 310 times a year instead of just 55.

“This is your weekend weather update. It promises to be perfect. The cloud cover is holding. The light will be soft. The rain will be misty most of the time, with occasional great sound effects on the roof. Nobody will get fried out there. Be sure to check out the cloud formations to the west between showers. Have a latte. Put the soup kettle on. Read Learned Optimism. Enjoy.