For anyone not living near a ski resort, this is the worst time of year. Christmas is by now a distant memory, except for some mocking reminders that arrive in the mail and are tossed in a pile of dread. New Year’s resolutions have been abandoned at a rate rivaling 50 percent of marriages. And football has forsaken us again for many long months.
The doldrums are abounding (if, indeed, doldrums possess enough energy to bound). Although it’s truly a bleak time, it’s also brimming with potential! The short, dark days of winter, unlike any other time of year, afford us the ideal opportunity to indulge in and cherish the most basic and exquisite of all human pleasures: coziness.
It’s also an interior season, designed for reflection. As I watch winter outside my window and wonder, as Lewis Carroll did, “if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt,” I’ve been considering how small government reflects the comfortable familiarity we enjoy most in the wintertime.
Coziness: A Universal Delight
Coziness is a universal delight. To feel warm, safe, satiated, and secure—these are the things all living creatures intrinsically seek. To be snug in a familiar place, aware of but protected from the dangers of the outside world, much like a child in the womb; contented by comforting food, drink, and good cheer—what more is there?
Coziness is more than a simple physical condition to experience when Mother Nature hails ice daggers from the sky and drives us to shelter. It’s also a state of mind to attain by combining elements of familiarity, simplicity, and tranquility. A cozy place evokes fond memories and enables one to relax in surroundings that nurture the soul like an old friend. That’s why “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” and “No place like home” in general.
Coziness is also found in simple things: a warm mug of cocoa after an invigorating hike in the woods, a crackling fire, a fuzzy sweater that fits like a hug. A place like Versailles, although awe-inspiring in its extravagance, could never be considered cozy. It’s excessive, with too many distractions to ever become acquainted with all of them in a homey way.
Most sane things are hibernating during the coldest time of the year. Without the activity of migrating birds, blooming flowers, and the overall aliveness of creation, and before technology came along and spoilt our much-needed seasonal lethargy, winter was a time to slow down, relax, and reflect inwardly. Coziness can’t be achieved during frenzied agitation, because then it’s impossible to appreciate the simple things that are naturally pleasing.
The Appeal of Small Towns
The elements of coziness—familiarity, simplicity, and tranquility—are more easily found in small towns than big ones, where even a smile is an effort, and often alludes to something more licentious than friendly. Living in a small town has taught me that humans are made to be simple and are most happy when coziness is in abundance.
The 1,900-person community I inhabit in Idaho is a cozy one, and not just because it’s flannel season year-round. It’s a small place. A handful of local stores provide the basics, Amazon the rest. My neighbors and I are united by the humorous frustration of driving on roads that are fairly often blocked by livestock ranging from pigs to moose to yaks, knowing the hardscrapple old woman who rides her horse to the store when she’s drunk (safety first!), and by the common, incessant scraping of snow, often well into June.
Everyone I know who lives in this area is happy to be here. Most moved in from somewhere else and are sacrificing to stay because they don’t miss what they left behind. A handful of recent studies suggest that people living in small towns are, in fact, happier. Data from a 2014 Harvard University and University of British Columbia study (“Unhappy Cities”) found people living in smaller cities are happier than those in large ones, with five small Louisiana cities coming out on top.
ABC Online reported similarly in 2015 on a University of Melbourne study that found “Australians who live in towns with fewer than 1,000 people [are] significantly happier than those in big cities.” A 2016 survey from the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics found residents of the Outer Hebrides and other remote islands report the highest life satisfaction.
Of course, there are exceptions, and these studies are obviously not to say people in all small towns are happy or that people in highly populated areas can’t be happy. Plenty of decrepit, little rust towns prove otherwise. In my experience, though, the city folk I know are happiest when they’ve settled into a routine that mimics small-town life: establishing a go-to neighborhood bar “where everybody knows your name,” a coffee shop where the barista starts getting your drink ready when she sees you walk in the door, and so forth. City slickers appreciate a sense of coziness, too.
Big Government Is Contrary to Human Nature
At the risk of sounding like a Farmers Only commercial (“City folk just don’t get it”), I’ll get to my point. Human beings by nature are drawn to things they understand and with which they can easily become familiar. We are not very complicated. Beyond relieving ourselves of financial stress, securing ourselves life’s basic comforts, and, I would argue, enough Norwich Terriers to comprise a pack, money doesn’t really buy us happiness. Research shows “More money, more problems” is statistically true beyond about $75,000, and we know it’s definitely true for taxes.
Men’s Health reported on a 2015 study that found “Wealth may make it harder for you to appreciate simple pleasures…The reason: Most of your life is made up of simple pleasures, so finding joy in them is a big part of what makes you happy.” The Outer Hebrides people living in the middle of nowhere who are so satisfied also, incidentally, have some of the country’s lowest incomes.
What people want instinctively is to survive, be comfortable, and focus on themselves and their loved ones, to pursue a simple, unobstructed happiness. “The Attitudinal Effect of Mere Exposure,” a 1985 University of Michigan study, found the more we’re familiar with things, the better we like them (bad news if you’re trying not to get back together with that ex).
The U.S. government, on the other hand, is the opposite of simple and familiar. Although politicians themselves may be cozy with their fellow cronies, the whole system is one giant, confusing, complicated mess that no one is or can ever be really familiar with.
In Idaho, we like that we know our neighbors, even those we don’t particularly like. It’s comforting. We have a support system, a familial network. The rules our local lawmakers make affect us personally, and we can hold them accountable when we run into them at the grocery store, or better yet, the bar.
The federal government, by contrast, adds confusion and stress-related exhaustion to the lives of everyone who comes in contact with it. It isn’t practical nor natural to be so expansive, and it’s downright overwhelming. Humans were made to desire simplicity, and ultimately, from a Catholic’s perspective, solely (and souly!) God. As St. Augustine said, “My heart is restless until it rests in Thee.”
Donald Trump: Simple and Familiar
Contentment derives from simplicity, and our natures cannot be contented when we’re constantly harassed by forces we can’t understand or predict. We’re forced to worry continually about such things as overly complex government-mandated health-care applications, inane building regulations, and absurd tax codes that are just begging to be violated.
We simple humans desire coziness above all else, that universally agreeable feeling of understanding found in the uncomplicated little things, which are in every way contrary to our current government system. We want an escape from the complexities of the modern world, and a big government does nothing but add more burdens to our already-strained lives.
I believe a big part of why Donald Trump won the presidential election was because he carried an element of coziness about him, as strange as that sounds. His rhetoric is familiar and simple (I won’t go so far as to say tranquil). Trump spoke in plain English. People related to someone who said (or tweeted) things as forthright as “Our jobs are being sucked out of our economy,” “Wrong,” and, “We will create an economic machine the likes of which we haven’t seen in many decades.” Meanwhile, the vague “I’m with her” sounded like a co-ed taking an arbitrary side in a sorority spat.
Anxiety comes largely from a fear of the unknown. We’d rather be treated in a small, family doctor’s office than in a giant, utilitarian hospital. Colleges brag about small class sizes and instructors getting to know their students. Knowing what to expect removes a layer of stress from our lives, and the more familiar we are with our government, the happier we are. How can we become familiar with a government whose vast agencies can’t even be contained under a single roof?
What’s more, the further the layers of bureaucracy remove a politician from the people, the less understanding and empathy he will have for the struggle of the common folk he rules. It’s easy to enact onerous and cruel legislation from a high tower—look at Tehran, North Korea, or Hillary Clinton, for that matter. Her high-minded rhetoric was out of touch, cold, and distant.
Meanwhile, the Donald reminded Americans of a familiar attitude they’d almost forgotten during the domineering years of political correctness, but which they’d been yearning to identify with once more: American superiority, patriotism, and making America great again. This sense of pride struck a nerve with a large portion of the population who, for the last eight years at least, has been confused and lost, wondering anxiously what it means to be an American, watching helplessly while the Obama administration did its best to reverse our standing in the world and erode the principles upon which our country was founded.
It’s be nice if the same progressives who champion the “Buy local” farmers markets would realize their rationale that small and local is better applies likewise to government. For the time being, we ruralites will continue to enjoy our cozy existence where it’s found: locally.
So as you curl up with a good book and something warming in a mug during the remaining, dreary weeks of winter, reflect upon how cozy you are, and how your government, were it smaller, simpler, and easier to understand, could make you feel the same way. Oh, and if you’re thinking of moving to Idaho after my appeal, stay away. We like that there are no people here.