The long nights and short days of winter take their toll on all of us. Some of the symptoms of a low-light existence include sleepiness, lassitude and lack of interest in things that once excited us.

Besides the lack of light on those short, dark days, we must also devote time and money to heating our homes and shoveling and plowing snow. Not to mention that even a simple walk outside now requires extra-warm clothing such as winter boots, warm coats and gloves. It’s a tough time of year and barring heading south for the winter, there’s not much we can do about it. Or is there?

Some folks embrace winter to the hilt, taking long walks on snowshoes, skiing, ice-fishing and snowmobiling. But not everyone can or wishes to take part in wintertime outdoor activities. For those who dislike the cold, snow and darkness, and there are multitudes, relief begins inside the house. And there are a number of things we can do to make our homes cheery despite what happens outside.

Here are some suggestions.

Let There Be Light

The first thing I do upon arising each morning, at least on clear days, is to stand in front of my glass front door and take in the sun. This has a beneficial effect in that sunlight coming into our eyes makes us more cheerful but contrary to popular opinion, winter sunlight does not impart Vitamin D.

According to a January, 2013 article in this paper by Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, the sun must gain an altitude of at least 53 degrees before we can benefit from Vitamin D UVB rays. But in winter, the sun rides low in the sky, lower than 53 degrees.

Marion rightly warns against tanning beds, always a dangerous practice. Instead, she suggests taking between 5,000-10,000 international units of Vitamin D3. Further, she says not to take plain D or D2, just D3 for the best results.

We store Vitamin D (a hormone, not a real vitamin) in summer and our body slowly uses it up in winter and by mid- to-late winter our reserves become depleted. This makes taking regular doses of D3 a practical solution to the winter “blahs.”

Artificial Light

So many of us live in dark houses. By that I mean a place with few south-facing windows and dark paint on walls and ceilings. In winter, this can lead to sluggishness and even mild depression. We have several options to counter this.

First, consider taking the room where you spend the most time and painting walls and ceiling bright white. That way, indoor lighting is magnified rather than subdued.

The other choice is to add new or additional lighting. My kitchen, a place where I spend lots of time, has poor lighting. An overhead fixture supplies sufficient light to see but not enough to make a difference, mood-wise. And a floor lamp gives some light, but just not enough. The answer for me and everyone else in a similar situation is to visit a lighting specialist, describe the situation and then buy a light that will truly light up that dark room in a big way.

And that is exactly what I plan on doing as soon as some writing checks finally arrive. That’s another negative of winter. Many of us see our incomes drop and expenses rise during the cold months. This, too, wears on our minds. But whatever a good light fixture or lamp costs, it will be worth the expense. And it’s not a one-time-use thing either. Good lighting is forever – or at least until the bulb burns out.

In addition, some little things can help as well. Make sure to keep inside window surfaces scrupulously clean. If curtains and drapes, the same ones used to keep out the hot sun in summer, impede light from entering, take them down. Or at the least, exchange dark, opaque drapes and curtains for light-colored, translucent ones. In other words, do everything possible to allow every possible bit of sunlight to penetrate your room.

Eye Candy

Who doesn’t delight in viewing a beautiful scene? Photos of sea and landscapes taken in summer can go far toward cheering us in winter.

With the advent of digital cameras capable of storing hundreds of photos, we now have the ability to go on an ersatz summertime tour of the great Maine outdoors anytime we wish.

For me, that means short but regular sessions viewing my garden, fishing and landscape photos. It amazes me how just looking at a photo can bring back everything about the day it was taken. So it is possible to ever-so-briefly, re-create the most delightful times of summer.

Also, for those who regularly use computers, the background theme, no matter how enticing and cheerful, becomes less valuable with each passing day because we slowly become inured to it. It pays to change scenes at least once a week. And having a good store of photos on hand makes this easy.

My current background scene shows a calm day at sea as viewed from Spruce Point in Boothbay Harbor. Lobster boats rock lazily on the serene surface and in the foreground, pasture roses add perspective and color. Viewing this scene has the effect of transporting me back to that very day when the photo was taken. And that’s the main idea anyway. But as mentioned earlier, don’t leave any scene on the screen for more than a week because after that it becomes far less effective. Change the background scene and change your mood. And we can all benefit from bright, cheerful thoughts when snow blows and the thermometer hovers around zero.

Try Flowers

A bouquet of flowers on a table in a sunny room can bring renewed life and zest any time and any place. But it costs money to keep renewing such a setting and for those on a tight budget it may be more practical to try growing some indoor plants.

For this, paperwhite narcissus come immediately to mind. For not much money, we can buy complete kits. These include container, bulbs and growing medium. Just plant, water and wait and soon, long, green leaves will shoot straight up and fragrant, white blossoms will appear.

Potted plants, too, are long-lasting and mood-enhancing. For this, let me suggest that you don’t invest in exotic, hard-to-tend plants, the kind that require high humidity (something in short supply in winter) and have exacting light requirements. Instead, opt for hard-to-kill plants such as spider, or airplane plant, Pothos (a trailing ivy), peace lily (seen in lobbies and offices) and asparagus fern. All these have attractive foliage and they will bring cheer in winter.

Tom’s Tips

Buying and transporting a potted plant in winter has its caveats. Even brief exposure to sub-freezing temperatures can have a negative effect upon plants and it might even kill them. So make sure that the seller puts the plant in a box and then seals it with plastic or some other insulator before heading back home with it.

Alternately, it might pay to simply wait for a decent day with little wind and lots of sunshine.

Tom Seymour of Waldo is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist and book author.