Search the Site

Episode Transcript

DUBNER: You know, there’s a whole school of diaper optimization.

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth. 

DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.

DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: How do seasonal changes affect mood and mental health?

DUCKWORTH: “I want to be ecstatic!” “I want to be flipping out and doing cartwheels.”

 *      *      *

DUCKWORTH: Stephen, we have a comment submitted to from one Lindsey Rullman, and I’m going to read it to you.

DUBNER: Let’s hear it.

DUCKWORTH: “The days are getting darker earlier. Cooler temperatures are kicking in. Winter is coming.”

DUBNER: Oh, no. I see where this is going.

DUCKWORTH: This is not a Game of Thrones question. Lindsey is talking about the seasons, and not the seasons of Game of Thrones. “Although the beginning of each new season is very exciting and refreshing to experience, the mid-winter seasonal sadness tends to affect many people. September to December is quite exciting because of the new seasonal atmosphere and the holidays. But after January, the short-term joy in the air tends to diminish for some. Although year-round sunshine and warmth sounds ideal, the changing of the seasons is also beautiful to experience — although, it can come with seasonal mood shifts.

DUBNER: There’s a lot of “although-ness” going on here, I have to say.

DUCKWORTH: On one hand, on the other hand, on the other-other hand. A lot of hands.” Lindsey closes, “It’s almost like spring and summer is much more exciting and anticipated after you’ve gone through a long, cold journey. What are your thoughts on this?”

DUBNER: Well, first of all, fall is the favorite season. I don’t know if you know that, but if you survey people in America— 

DUCKWORTH: Is that true?! 

DUCKWORTH: It is true. Fall is No. 1. It’s No. 1 among all age groups.

DUCKWORTH: Wait, let me guess. Spring, number two?

DUBNER: It looks like spring and summer are pretty close to tied — although, there’s some really interesting generational breakdown. So, it turns out that older people dislike the most extreme seasons: summer and winter.

DUCKWORTH: They’re always getting cold or hot. Bad thermal regulation.

DUBNER: Younger people, however, really groove on summer. Here’s the thing — to shorthand it — nobody really likes winter. Although — to use Lindsey’s favorite word — it is most popular among 18- to 34-year-olds.


DUBNER: Fall, pretty much everybody likes. And then, spring and summer are also very popular — just behind fall — but older people much prefer spring to summer. So, whether that’s because it’s just less comfortable being old when it’s hot, I don’t know.

DUCKWORTH: Then again, they keep going to Florida. Could be the taxes.

DUBNER: They do. But I think not so much for the summer. I think in the summer, they flood back to the Michigans and the New Yorks.


DUBNER: You know, the shortest day of the year is December 21. It’s only the first day of winter, but you’re already anticipating, and it can be depressing for a lot of people. I mean, one thing you want to do — if you want to extend the holiday period before which you get really down, you can become a big football fan, and then you can look forward to the Super Bowl, which happens usually in early — well, around the second week of February. So, if you’re looking forward to that as, like, the beginning of the new year — as opposed to January 1 — that can get you, like a whole extra month. That said, I totally hear what Lindsey’s saying. She’s also asking about something that I believe is a real condition: seasonal affective disorder, S.A.D. Do you know much about that?

DUCKWORTH: It’s basically depression that is only experienced during a particular season of the year. And for the vast majority of people who suffer from, let’s use the acronym, S.A.D., that’s, not surprisingly, usually winter — although, I guess technically you could experience it during other seasons. And it’s pretty rare. Estimates are, like, between half a percent the general population, all the way to, say, 3 percent of the population. 

DUBNER: It’s much more common among women than men, as I understand it.

DUCKWORTH: Correct. Which is also true of several other mood disorders, but this is certainly true of S.A.D. So, when we think about what’s going on with seasonal affective disorder — because it is depression that you have during, let’s say, winter, you know, to call it simply — we both want to understand what is true about this season that is not true of other season —

DUBNER: Light and warmth.

DUCKWORTH: It’s clearly got to have something to do with light, because I believe that the incidents of S.A.D. also varies by your latitude. The closer you are to the equator, the less likely you are to have S.A.D, because near the equator, yes, they have seasons, but they hardly have seasons.

DUBNER: Yeah.  

DUCKWORTH: They don’t have seasons like they have when you’re, like, close to the North or South Pole, where you know winter is, like, what, five hours of daylight a day or less. And then, summers can be extreme in the opposite direction. So, it has to have something to do with light.

DUBNER: To what degree might it be an American, or a rich country, problem? Has it been observed in similar proportion or magnitude in places like Australia, which is another rich country? Or in other places in the Southern Hemisphere that are not as rich? Is it necessarily connected to winter, and less light, and warmth everywhere?

DUCKWORTH: Well, the fact that there is some association with latitude means that it must exist outside of just the United States. I think, generally, with mental health issues, it varies a lot by country, in part, because of stigma or lack thereof. The diagnosis of things like this — you know, we’re talking about S.A.D. here, but you could also be talking about bipolar disorder or, like, social anxiety, et cetera — there’s such a change that’s happened — in this country, at least — where people can say, you know, in intimate conversation, in casual conversation, on blog posts, that they suffer from “fill-in-the-blank.” And I think that can’t be equally true across all countries. So, it may be that S.A.D. is diagnosed more in the United States, but it doesn’t seem like mental health issues are particular to cultures, even though there could be some nuances. My guess, also — let me speculate — is that people would be more forthcoming about having S.A.D. than they would be about having what’s sometimes called “major depression” or, like, depression that doesn’t have seasonality. Don’t you think you’d be more comfortable saying, “Oh yeah, I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder,” than, like, “Oh yeah, I get depressed.”

DUBNER: Yep. I do think you’re right. So, here’s one paper I’m looking at: “Time Spent in Outdoor Light is Associated with Mood, Sleep, and Circadian Rhythm Related Outcomes.” One of the conclusions is each additional hour spent outdoors during the day was associated with lower odds of lifetime, major depressive disorder, antidepressant usage, less frequent anhedonia.” Is that how we say that? Anhedonia?

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Inability to experience pleasure.

DUBNER: “With low mood, greater happiness, and so on, and so on.” Now, I guess one sensible question to ask is: “Okay, is it that spending time outdoors causes that?” The authors don’t claim that. They say it was associated with those better outcomes. So, what is your understanding of the latest research on — let’s just call it — “outdoor” light and its contributions to mental and physical health?

DUCKWORTH: So, I’m a big fan of light. And I have actually been trying to get more light in my day. So, I have my students at the very beginning of our class — we have a two-by-two grid on the first PowerPoint slide of my class, and it’s a mood meter. It’s what most emotion researchers would argue are the X and Y axes of emotions. So, one axis is from positive to negative, and the other one is high energy to low energy. And being American, you know, most of us would want to be high-energy/positive. Turns out some cultures also, you know, very much respect being low-energy/positive — like, calm.  

DUBNER: That’s not very American.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, most Americans are like, “I want to be ecstatic!” “I want to be flipping out and doing cartwheels.” So, when you come into my class, the first thing that you do is: you open up the app. It’s called Poll Everywhere. And then you just place yourself on the mood meter — which helps me know how the class is feeling that day. It helps me know how you’re feeling that day, because the data is matched to your name. But it also helps me take attendance. Pretty good, right? I’m very proud of that, actually. So, I was looking at these patterns. And I remember looking at February, and this one particular semester, it was like, “Woah. We are in the basement, mood-wise.” And I looked at my own mood meter, and I was no different from my students. So, I have to say that, for me, one of the struggles with February was not only that it was a particularly dark time of year, but it was so cold, and so icy that I hardly poked my nose out of my house.

DUBNER: Plus, the Super Bowl was over. So, you felt you didn’t have very much to forward to.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. The Super Bowl didn’t do it for me, apparently, that year. And so, I looked up the research, and there’s good research suggesting that not only for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, but for all of us, there are these pretty sturdy trends about how weather affects wellbeing. One article in particular that I remember I thought was quite clever, and it was published in PLOS One. It was a great study. So, they looked at Facebook posts, they looked at Twitter posts, and they, actually, were able to geolocate where these accounts were. And so, they can match that to public records of weather. And if you then use machine learning to code the positivity versus the negativity of these posts, you can see whether there is or is not a relationship between emotion and weather, and it’s pretty striking. So, first of all, I will say that for temperature, there’s basically a kind of very comfortable temperature range. Somewhere between, like, 22 to maybe 28 degrees Celsius. I’d have to do the conversion.

DUBNER: 22 Celsius is around 71 or 72 Fahrenheit.

DUCKWORTH: Quite pleasant. Sounds nice.  

DUBNER: Yep.  

DUCKWORTH: That’s where you get peak positive expression on Facebook and likewise on Twitter. And we were just talking about sun, etcetera. So, they also looked at precipitation, and it’s basically, like, less is more. Especially on Facebook, there’s this pretty steep increase in negative emotion, and a pretty steep decrease in positive emotion when you start to get really rainy weather. And I think precipitation also includes snow. So, anyway, I think sunshine and being able to get outside — which is another feature of good weather. Like, it’s not necessarily just the sunshine hitting the retina, maybe making more serotonin, but also all the things that sunshine lets you do, like walk outside, and enjoy the fresh air, et cetera. 

DUBNER: So, it’s probably not a coincidence that if you look at U.S. migratory patterns within the country, you’ll see that, yeah, people don’t like winter. They like warm and light. People are voting with their feet. If you look at address-change request data from the U.S. Postal Service, here are the top five states (they’re all warmer and sunnier than the places where you and I live): Texas, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia.

DUCKWORTH: This is places that people are changing their address to go to?

DUBNER: Yeah, this is where people are moving to.

DUCKWORTH: You know, I spent a summer in England. It was the summer I met Jason. This is Oxford, and I don’t know what latitude that is, but during the summer months it felt like 24/7 sunlight. And I was probably in a slightly manic state because I was falling in love anyway, but: Oh my gosh, Stephen, I—

DUBNER: So, do you think in retrospect it wasn’t sunny at all? You just remember it as being sunny because you were falling in love?

DUCKWORTH: Well, I’m beginning to distrust my own memory, but I know because I have my journals, I was, like, manically active. I just was running, and baking banana bread, and taking walks with Jason, and doing my master’s thesis, and so forth. And in a less manic state — though I recall it with as much clarity, because it was more recent — I went to Denmark for a one-week vacation with my mother-in-law, who wanted to do, like, a “roots” trip. We had this experience of being, you know, so far north that nighttime was, like, five or six hours. It’s just so weird, but I loved it.

DUBNER: So, you’d be okay with a perma-summer.

DUCKWORTH: I think that, you know, going to Alaska over the summer and having it nearly constant light would be awesome.

DUBNER: So, you might be one of these people that should just chase the sun.

DUCKWORTH: You know, some version of that, but I can see becoming a snowbird. I think it would be great.  

DUBNER: So, I would love to hear from our listeners — for my benefit, for Lindsey’s benefit. Angie, sounds like you kind of have it conquered. But: What do you do to cope during the long, dark winter? If you have any good stories or ideas, send us a voice memo. Just use your phone to make a recording. Send it to Keep it pretty short. Include your name, where you live, and record in a nice, quiet room, if you can, and keep your mouth pretty close to the microphone on your phone. We would love to hear what you have to say.  

Still to come on No Stupid Questions, Stephen and Angela break down the scientific recommendations for dealing with seaonsal depression.

DUCKWORTH: “Oh, it’s winter. I’m going to effectively hibernate.” 

*      *      *

Now, back to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about the winter blues.

DUBNER: In terms of Lindsey, who wrote to us, let’s say that Lindsey doesn’t want to move — or maybe she wants to move, but her family doesn’t want to move. And so, she can’t relocate her body to a place where she’s going to get more light and warmth.  

DUCKWORTH: She can’t be a snowbird.

DUBNER: Let’s talk about what else she can maybe do — or what anybody can do — to fight the seasonal “blahs.” I’m looking at a list here of a few things. There’s light therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, antidepressants, vitamin D supplements, exercise, and good diet. We’ve talked about some of those already. What do you think of light therapy? Do you know anything about it?

DUCKWORTH: So, my understanding, not having done it myself, is that you sit in front of a light box — you know, maybe, like, two-foot-by-two-foot, big light box. And you do that every day for, you know, 30, 45 minutes. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, usually you do this first thing in the morning, and you do it during the darkest months of the year. And these light boxes are not like, “Oh, I’ll just turn my kitchen lights on.” Right? The light boxes are like 20 times brighter than ordinary indoor light. And then, of course, they don’t want to give you skin cancer. So, they make sure that they don’t have the damaging wavelengths of light. But basically, that’s the idea — that you bathe in a very high-dose, bright light for, you know, half-an-hour or 45 minutes every day.

DUBNER: And the idea is that is the effect that changes one’s mood, at least short term?

DUCKWORTH: Well, it’s the idea that, like, whatever it is that is going on in general with Seasonal Affective Disorder, this is the antidote, because there are receptors at the back of the retina that are linked to making more serotonin.

DUBNER Does a representation of outside light seem to be as helpful as actual sunlight?

DUCKWORTH: Well, I’m going to give you two sides of this story. On the pro-light-therapy side, I have a friend who’s actually a devoted listener, Austin Lin. And he has these lights set up in his apartment that are just — like, you feel like you’re on a Hollywood movie set. And when I was visiting him the other day, I was like, “What the heck is up with these lights?” And he said that he doesn’t even need to leave his house. I mean, he lives literally next to a Whole Foods, but he still gets his Whole Foods groceries delivered.

DUBNER: Do you think he wears a diaper indoors, so he doesn’t have to take time to go to the bathroom? You know, there’s a whole school of diaper optimization.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, is there? You mean, like, you can get more done if you wear a diaper?  

DUBNER: Absolutely. 

DUCKWORTH: Didn’t Lorena Bobbitt wear a diaper to drive cross country to—?

DUBNER: Uh, I don’t think she drove across country to cut off her husband’s penis. I think it was a different woman who was attacking a different man. And I think one of them, or both of them, were astronauts. 

DUCKWORTH: Oh, that’s a fun, totally irrelevant fact.

DUBNER: And I don’t think Lorena Bobbit was an astronaut, but she probably could have been.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Anyway, there may not have been a diaper involved there, but I will say that Austin, who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts — it’s maybe not like the sunniest place during the winter, but, you know, it’s not the North Pole. You could just walk around the block for a couple of hours. And I think that’s some of the received wisdom, that, like, everybody should get a couple hours.

DUBNER: But the science seems to indicate that light therapy may be useful. Yes? 

DUCKWORTH: Well, okay. I wanted to give Austin as a kind of proponent of light therapy. And, of course, there are many scientists, and psychiatrists, and psychologists who are pro-light therapy.  

DUBNER: And light box sales people. It sounds like you’re not buying though, because I know that in your recent turn toward trying to get more light for yourself, you go outside and walk in the sun. You’re not having any of this light box stuff, are you?

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, not only do I want to not live on a Hollywood stage set — I mean, these lights are huge, by the way. They’re not like little pen lights, and I don’t want them in my kitchen. So, I, of course, am biased, but there is some review research on light therapy that’s been published the last couple of years. I’m looking at this Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews from just three years ago, 2019. I don’t know what it is, by the way. What is Cochrane?

DUBNER: It is a consortium that, I believe, began in the U.K. and is maybe still based there, that basically wanted to be the meta-analyzer of medical and scientific research so that they could tease apart the garbage from the good, and that’s their mission. And I think it’s noble.

DUCKWORTH: So, Consumer Reports, but with science. 

DUBNER: But it’s done by fellow scientists.

DUCKWORTH: So, here’s the conclusion: “Evidence on light therapy as preventative treatment for people with a history of Seasonal Affective Disorder is limited. Given that comparative evidence for light therapy versus other preventative options is limited, the decision for or against initiating preventative treatment of S.A.D. and the treatment selected should be strongly based on patient preferences.” So, this is a verdict of insufficient information.

DUBNER: And did you tell all this to your friend, Austin, when you walked into his movie-set kitchen?

DUCKWORTH: Well, I am now, because he’s listening to our conversation.  

DUBNER: Oh, so you were scared to tell him face-to-face that what he’s doing is potentially expensive and using up a lot of energy, which will contribute to climate change — which will, on the upside, make every place a little bit warmer, potentially. So, he might not have to use the indoor lights. But you didn’t tell him.

DUCKWORTH: I do think I said, “I can’t believe it’s as good be marinating under these lights as it is just to go outside.” By the way, there’s so many things about taking a walk outside that are beneficial other than daylight exposure. Right? You get your steps in.

DUBNER: You and I are big in the pro-walk camp for many, many, many reasons. But look: It’s not everybody’s thing. Different people have different preferences. I understand that. And I can see that, especially, if you’re not feeling great about yourself and your place in the world, that it does make it harder to go out.  

DUCKWORTH: It does, but that is the very time we should go take a walk. Don’t you think?

DUBNER: I understand that, but I also know that there’s a “wants to and isn’t able to.” I know that many people have been in the position where they don’t have the cognitive and physical momentum to get themselves out into the world, even if they think it would be. So, light therapy, you’re saying, may have some limited upside. What about — from what little I’ve read, this sounds like maybe among the most promising treatments for S.A.D., which is cognitive behavioral therapy. I’m looking at a piece here published in The Conversation, which is a very nice website. And this is a piece by Harriet Bowyer, a psychologist at Glasgow Caledonian University. She writes that, “In one study,” — which I did not read, I’m just reading her summary of it — “researchers showed that C.B.T., cognitive behavioral therapy, was associated with significantly lower depression when followed up one year later when compared to light therapy.” So, I know you generally are a proponent of cognitive behavioral therapy. Do you think it is useful for seasonal affective disorder?

DUCKWORTH: You know, I think cognitive behavioral therapy is useful for—

DUBNER: Is good for everything.

DUCKWORTH: Pretty much everything. So, for the uninitiated, this is this kind of psychotherapy — sometimes called talk therapy; it’s just treatment through conversation, but unlike Freudian psychoanalysis, it’s very problem-focused, more like physical therapy. It’s like, “What’s the problem? Let’s treat the problem. Let’s not, you know, exhume your entire childhood, and spend many, many, many sessions.” Often psychotherapy of this kind can be just four sessions, eight sessions. It’s very brief, relatively speaking. You zero-in, with the help of your therapist, on dysfunctional maladaptive thoughts — that’s the cognitive part — and, also, behaviors. That’s the behavioral part. And you swap out dysfunctional for functional thoughts and behaviors. Remember, think about seasonal affective disorder as having depression, but just during a particular season.

DUBNER: So, let me ask you this. When I look back over Lindsay’s note, who’s looking for a way to get through winter, one thought that comes to mind is harnessing an idea that’s been explored by your friend and colleague, Katy Milkman. This notion of a “fresh start” and how whenever there’s a kind of reset, we seem to benefit from it. What if you could save up the opportunities for good, fresh starts and use them in the deepest, darkest period of winter. In other words: There’s things that I know that if I start this now — if I join a new group, if I make a new friend, if I go to a new place, et cetera — it may jog my mood and thinking a little bit. Is that simplistic thinking about how to use fresh starts? Can you sort of manufacture and manipulate them into being present at the time when you most need them?

DUCKWORTH: Well, funny, you should bring up Katy Milkman and fresh starts in the context of this conversation about the weather and our mood, because not that many days ago, Katy was over for dinner. We were talking, in particular, about how there are semesters where Katy and I teach two classes, and there are semesters where we’re teaching no classes. I was saying how, maybe, it would be better to teach in the fall and then maybe go away for the spring. And she was saying how she intentionally teaches during the spring term, because in those dark, cold, snowy, icy, “can’t get out of the house” months, at least has a distraction for her. So, that’s not quite a fresh start. That’s just timing.

DUBNER: Can I just say, this is really great, especially, for the parents of Penn students who are hearing one Penn professor talking to the other about, “God, the last thing in the world I want to do is actually have to teach Penn students.”

DUCKWORTH: No! That is not what we were saying. She was saying it gave her something to look forward to during those terrible months. And here’s what I would say. This is temptation bundling — another Katy Milkman idea.

DUBNER: I thought it was the opposite of temptation bundling. Like, “If I have to be in ‘Filthadelphia’ in the winter, I might as well deal with these students.”

DUCKWORTH: No, no, no. The idea of temptation bundling is you pair a “want” with a “should.” Like, “I guess I have to live here, so I’m going to, like, pair something that’s good with it.” And so, her point was that this is a good thing to do then, because it brings you up, not down. So, even though I could see my mood going down in these weekly lecture things, consider the counterfactual. Consider, like, if I weren’t teaching at all. Imagine what my mood might be — like, even worse, because I wasn’t doing this thing that we both enjoy.

DUBNER Let me try a slightly different version of coping with this that I have been working on the last few years, because I very much share Lindsey’s feeling about this. It’s just the notion that novelty is exciting. So, here’s the thing. If — when we’re thinking about getting down in the winter — if you can just look at it as an opportunity to do things, to think things, to see people that you don’t the rest of the year — just to kind of stud this potentially cold, dark period with new experiences and look at it as an opportunity to just have a break from the routine. And in that way, to me, it feels like you’re casting a little bit of positive energy on this period, rather than negative — all the things that I’m not able to do during this time. What do you think of that idea?

DUCKWORTH: You know, there is this idea that the problem with seasonal affective disorder, and the problem with winter, is not that there is less sunlight, it’s not that it’s cold, but it’s that there is a mismatch between those barometric conditions and our modern life, which just pushes on. You know, nobody says, “Oh, it’s winter. I’m going to sleep two hours more and do two hours less work. I’m going to effectively hibernate.” People just keep the same exact work routine, for example.

DUBNER: So, your advice is hibernation, for Lindsey and me. That’s your advice, essentially?

DUCKWORTH: Well, this is a perspective on seasonal affective disorder — that, really, what we need to do is: Actually go with the seasons. You know, imagine before the invention of electricity, and even before I guess, like, gas lamps, and so forth — when the sun set, that was it. You did sleep longer, et cetera.  

DUBNER: That was when people apparently practiced biphasic sleeping. There were two sleep periods. You’d go to sleep when it got dark. And then you’d wake up in the middle of the night, and you’d light your candle, and you’d do, like, some knitting or something.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, I’ve heard that. Everybody would kind of get up and do something.

DUBNER: Right. “Do you want to meet for poker at 2:30 when we’re all awake for an hour and a half?”

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I don’t know whether it would be that exactly, but I do think there’s something intriguing about the idea that we just, like, force, we just shoehorn, you know, our modern workday into the sometimes-ill-fitting shoebox of nature, right?  

DUBNER: I hear what you’re saying, and I identify with it, but I also think that people just aren’t going to give up doing what they want to do when they want to do it.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, people are not going to effectively hibernate during the winter. And I’m not sure, by the way, that would make us any happier. I’m just saying there is a perspective that says there’s a mismatch. And rather than, you know, “Oh, it’s winter. I’ll just go into hibernation mode,” I think I would just do what I’m doing now, Stephen, which is: I’m trying to be outside as much as possible during all months of the year.  

DUBNER: Which is why you’ve decided to take up golf and become my new golf buddy. Correct? 

DUCKWORTH: No, it’s why I take my laptop and I go outside on my little back patio.

DUBNER: Killjoy.

DUCKWORTH: Practically speaking, there’s nowhere that is habituated by human beings that doesn’t have some sunlight during some part of the day — even in the depths of winter. And I guess my practical advice is, like, make the most of it. Go outside for the whole time.

DUBNER: Do you think there might be one more solution to S.A.D., which is the No Stupid Questions solution to everything — which is: “Maybe Lindsey should just have a sandwich”?

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Although, I think one of the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, it comes with overeating, particularly a craving for carbohydrates. So, maybe a sandwich, hold the bread.

DUBNER: I can’t believe you’ve taken away even the sandwich solution.

DUCKWORTH: I know, right? It’s rough, but that’s the reality.

DUBNER: I have to say, we’ve been doing this show a couple years now. This is the very first time we found a problem that couldn’t be solved by a sandwich.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Well, I guess there are limits to everything.

No Stupid Questions is produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here is a fact-check of today’s conversation.

In the first half of the show, Angela describes seasonal affective disorder as clinical depression that a person experiences during a certain time of year — usually the darker, colder months. However, an individual can have depression year-round and still suffer from seasonal affective disorder, in which case you would experience a worsening of symptoms with the approach of winter.

Also, Angela says that she’s skeptical about the effectiveness of S.A.D. lamps, and she cites a 2019 Cochrane Review which concludes that evidence for light therapy as a way to prevent S.A.D. is limited. But preventing S.A.D. is different from treating it. A 2020 meta-analysis from the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics found that bright light therapy can be an effective treatment for S.A.D., although the evidence comes from studies with small to medium sample sizes. In addition, Angela says that half a percent to 3 percent of the general population experiences S.A.D. Those numbers are accurate according to the National Library of Medicine, but the Cochrane Review that she referenced says that the prevalence is greater — about 1.5 percent to 9 percent, depending on latitude.

Also, Angela says that the North and South Pole get about five hours of daylight or less. And she later says that there is no location inhabited by human beings that doesn’t get sunlight for part of the day. This is incorrect. Both poles experience complete darkness for several months during winter and a corresponding period of total daylight during the summer. And while no one besides Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, people do live and work at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, a research station operated by the National Science Foundation.

Finally, Angela thought that the infamous Lorena Bobbitt wore a diaper on her way to cut off the penis of her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt. Stephen notes that Angela is mistaking Bobbitt for a female astronaut who also made headlines for notorious reasons. He was correct. Lisa Nowak was reported to have worn a diaper on her 950-mile road trip with a knife, a mallet, and a BB gun to confront her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. All parties involved were former astronauts. Nowak later denied wearing a diaper during the drive.

That’s it for the fact-check. 

Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear your thoughts on last week’s episode on the challenge of letting go of grudges. We asked listeners to send us voice memos with their own grudge stories. Here’s what one listener said: 

April REDFORD: My grudge was against Amanda Blanc. In 1994, when we were 15, she kissed my boyfriend. She went to another school, so I only saw her once in passing. I hated her with a nice vitriol. Fast forward to years later when my daughter was in kindergarten at a little, private church school that my in-laws at the time attended. One day I was telling my ex-mother-in-law how much I liked one of my daughter’s classmate’s mothers who I always chatted with at drop off and pickup. “I love Wyatt’s mom,” I said. “Oh, Amanda Blanc?” I totally didn’t recognize her grown up. My grudge was crushed with no way back. I couldn’t help it. I’m happy to report that I’ve kept all my other grudges intact. There’s a moral here, but I’m not willing to see it.

That was April Redford. Thanks to her and to everyone who sent us their thoughts. And remember, we’d still love to hear how you deal with the winter blues. Send a voice memo to Let us know your name or if you’d like to remain anonymous. And you might hear your story on next week’s show!

Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: What’s wrong with swear words?

DUBNER: Do you think that we should be swearing less? Maybe we should be swearing more?

That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.

*      *      *

No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and Freakonomics, M.D. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne with help from Jeremy Johnston. Our staff also includes Neal Carruth, Gabriel Roth, Greg Rippin, Julie Kanfer, Morgan Levey, Zack Lapinski, Ryan Kelley, Katherine Moncure, Jasmin Klinger, Daria Klenert, Emma Tyrrell, Lyric Bowditch, and Alina Kulman. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Thanks for listening!

DUCKWORTH: Austin said that he’s a devoted listener of our podcast, but also a variety of podcasts that help you optimize your life.  

DUBNER: Oh, we are the opposite of that. I think this is a podcast about how to throw away your life.

Read full Transcript


  • Harriet Bowyer, lecturer in applied psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University.
  • Katy Milkman, professor of operations, information, and decisions at the University of Pennsylvania.



Episode Video