With tomorrow being the shortest day, Geraldine Johns asks if we are more likely to feel real or imagined cases of the winter blues.
In Scandinavia, some coffee shops offer more than a dose of caffeine.
There, you can linger over your latte while linked up to a light box.
While you're sipping your coffee and flicking through the paper, you can also give your brain a decent feed of a life-brightening experience.
The light boxes - small, specially constructed contraptions which emit intensified levels of white light (10 to 20 times brighter than ordinary lamps) - are said to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): the winter blues that turn some people into depressed bears.
While SAD is a legitimate complaint, certainly in countries that have very few daylight hours in winter, New Zealanders are less likely to succumb.
In Oslo the average daily minimum temperature in January is -6.8C. The average number of daylight hours in Oslo in January totals five.
By comparison the average daily minimum temperature in Auckland during winter is 9C.
Today - one day out from the shortest day of the year - the Queen City will see the sun rise at 7.30am and set at 5.11pm.
That's nine hours and 41 minutes of daylight - in the middle of winter.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a grim thing to endure.
The signs and symptoms are very similar to a typical depression: low mood, tearfulness, lack of concentration, inability to rise up from your couch; an overall sense of the glums.
For SAD sufferers, the symptoms abate when the days lengthen, only to return when the nights get longer.
Part of its cause is put at a lack of light exposure, which is why the Norwegians - and some New Zealanders too - reach for the light box in the depths of winter.
But is Seasonal Affective Disorder a legitimate complaint? Or is it just a good excuse to throw a sickie and burrow back under the blankets?
"I would say 'yes' to both," says Dr Tony Fernando, a psychiatrist and sleep specialist at the Auckland University School of Medicine.
Fernando says there are definitely some people who become disabled due to decreased light exposure.
"At the same time, many of us, due to the absence of light and the prevalence of cold, want to hibernate a little longer than our [normal] sleep requirements."
We definitely need morning light for our moods, says Fernando. Natural sunlight has a mild anti-depressive effect and we need it for stability.
While most of us cope with decreased light exposure, a few are really affected by it.
Not surprisingly, then, there's a clear relationship with geography: the further north (or south) from the equator you go, the more you're likely to get SAD.
Fernando's recommended antidote is relatively uncomplicated: 30 minutes in front of a light box in the morning that emits about 5000 lux of light. He practises what he preaches.
In his bag he has a visor that emits a very powerful green light. Fernando uses it because it's helpful for jet lag, which can cause sleep disturbances.
He also demonstrates it when lecturing to med school students by donning it and then throwing the lecture theatre into darkness.
"It's quite spooky, because it emits a green light. Green light is more potent than white light."
Dr Guy Warman, a chrono-biologist at the University of Auckland, has studied the human sleep-wake cycles and sleep timing processes which are thought to contribute to SAD.
A low-light environment (winter) can affect the alignment between your biological clock and a normal 24-hour day, Warman says.
People's sensitivity to light can differ, he says. Not getting enough light in the morning can aggravate a pre-disposition to low mood in winter.
Efforts to find anyone in Auckland currently suffering from the disorder for the purposes of this piece have proved fruitless - which may indeed prove the nay-sayers wrong.
It just hasn't been cold enough or dark enough to warrant a slump into SAD this winter. Even people who have in the past resorted to light boxes have not yet been moved to use them this season.
Maybe the true experts on the existence of SAD can be found at your local travel agent.
Aucklander Tony Dominey, publisher of travel industry e-newsletter Travel Today, says there are clear spikes in outbound travel whenever the winter weather turns grim.
"Air Pacific always tells us every year that whenever there's a cold snap, they can tell where it's coming from, because that's where the bookings come from."
Dominey notes that the Gold Coast is always a popular winter destination - partly, perhaps, because Queensland doesn't observe daylight saving. So tourists by default get a good dose of anti-SAD morning sun.
Still, it doesn't help those who like long summer evenings, he adds: it gets dark miserably soon.
Dealing with the dark
* Buy a light box and expose yourself to it for 30 minutes a day. Make sure it's fitted with a UV filter, so you don't get unnecessarily exposed to UV light.
* Get outside and soak up the morning light. (Take an early walk - but not before the sun comes out.)
* Let the light into your home (in the morning): keep the curtains open; open the blinds; get the trees and hedges trimmed; install skylights.
* See your GP. A lot of people with SAD can be treated with various pharmaceuticals.
* Take a holiday. Head to a tropical spot where the sun rises early.