Winter is coming. And no, I’m not talking Game of Thrones. I don’t even watch that show. (Gasp!) I mean it is literally coming, and bringing with it all its darkness, cold, and gloom. As someone who fights against depression and anxiety during the warm and bright months, Winter can be a real battle.
A few years back, I discovered the Danish concept of Hygge. You may have heard of it, this concept of coziness, warmth, and togetherness. Alex Beauchamp, of Hygge House, says, “Hygge (pronounced hue-guh not hoo-gah) is a Danish word used when acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cosy, charming or special… While there’s no one English word or simple definition to describe hygge, several can be used interchangeably to describe the idea of hygge such as cosiness, charm, happiness, ‘contentness’, security, familiarity, comfort, reassurance, kinship, and simpleness.”
Hygge has been a game changer for me. There are tons of articles about how Nordic countries don’t just survive the Winter, they thrive because of hygge. The Christmas season naturally lends itself to hygge, which explains the post holiday letdown I used to feel. Now, I keep the coziness going all the way up into Spring, and it has become my best weapon against the Winter Blues.
So how do I hygge*? Here are 4 ways…
1. Consider the senses.
This is probably the most impactful way I hygge. Our lives are constantly bombarded with stressful input (hello 2020!), so filling the senses with things that are good and beautiful is a way to help calm our overworked nervous system. I think about the things I want to see, hear, feel, smell, and taste that feel warm, familiar, and comforting.
Also, I consider my thoughts as part of my senses! I want to focus on filling my mind with good words, music, cinema. How do I decide what is good? I personally use Philippians 4:8 as a sort of filter, by choosing things that are “true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”
Here are some specific ways I sensorily hygge…
- Good books and movies. I read and watch movies year round, but in the Winter months, I especially try and focus on media of a certain quality. I reread Pride and Prejudice every year at Christmas. I watch movies that feel authentic. I’m not saying we don’t also watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, because we definitely do. I just try and take these few months to be very intentional about consuming beauty.
- Light. We turn on lamps and not overhead lights. I put twinkle lights everywhere and have a bunch of battery operated tea lights on most of the time. I also light real candles. (Side note: In the past, I would worry about using up my favorite candles at a time that wasn’t special enough. Insert facepalm here. Treating every moment as special was a huge turning point for my hygge mindset.) We turn on our fireplace as often as we can.
- Music. There is a Spotify playlist for practically any mood or setting. I love setting it to play quietly in the background and forgetting about it. It adds another layer of happiness for me.
- Textures. I’m always about the cozy blankets and pillows, but especially during Winter. I like to take advantage of the excuse to buy a new blanket for myself, one that hasn’t been co opted by the kids and dog (yet) that is soft and smells good. (This year I snagged one that I’d had my eye on for a while.)
- Natural elements. As I’ll address a little further down, we should still try and get outdoors in the Winter. But it’s also a great time to bring the outdoors in. I love putting up my tree in November and leaving it up through January. I bring in branches, pine cones, leaves, and plants, really anything that I see outside that I think can come in.
- Yummy foods. Taking a page out of The Lazy Genius’ playbook, I make seasonal dinner queues. Our Autumn dinner queue is full of soups and stews and other comfort foods, and our Winter dinner queue will be similar. I bake more in the Winter, too; my family bakes together for the holidays and this year I may even finally tackle baked bread. I’m also all about the hot drinks in the cold months, especially tea and hot chocolate… and the occasional hot buttered rum.
- Comfy clothes. I basically have a hygge uniform–leggings, sweaters, and boots. At home, I live in warm socks and/or slippers and hoodies. I want to feel warm and cozy on the inside, so I take steps to make sure I feel warm and cozy on the outside.
“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”Edith Sitwell
I take my cues from nature during the cold months. For me, it’s time to hunker down, stay with my people, reconnect with them and with myself. It’s only because of Winter that we can have Spring, so I think of this as time to prepare for the new life that’s coming. I reflect and write and pray on the year that is closing, and dream and write and pray about the year to come. I choose a “word of the year” and make plans on how I’ll study the Bible for the coming year. I direct my thoughts to all that I’m grateful for. This is a quieter time for my family and me in general to just be together and hibernate.
“Snow was falling,Mary Oliver
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
3. Power down.
Hygge is low tech. We watch movies, but we try and focus most on analog experiences, like books, board games, walks, talks. There’s a lot about hygge that’s indoors, but it’s also hyggeligt to get outside and soak up Vitamin D when you can. I’ve heard it said there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Go with waterproof and warm layers and get out there and enjoy the beautiful (albeit cold!) outdoors. Another way to power down is to SLEEP. Take advantage of the dark and get all the sleep your body needs year round but you rarely give it; most recommendations are 7-9 hours. The studies on sleep are astounding; it affects your concentration, metabolism, productivity, energy (duh), mental health, immune function… I’m awful about getting appropriate amounts of sleep normally, but Winter is the perfect time to reset.
“No animal, according to the rules of animal-etiquette, is ever expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the off-season of winter.”Kenneth Grahame
4. Simple Traditions.
I’ve always been someone who loves traditions, and traditions are all about the hygge. They bring connection, warmth, and familiarity, if and when they’re kept simple and fun. For me it’s anti-hygge to have to remember to move a toy elf every night or stress about finding 24 books for my kids to unwrap each night of December. A fun and simple tradition my family celebrates is Jolabokaflod, an Icelandic tradition that literally translates in English to “Yule Book Flood.” It involves gathering together and exchanging books as gifts and then spending the evening reading with warm drinks and cozy blankets. In Iceland, this is celebrated on Christmas Eve, but our family has adopted it for the last Friday before Christmas Eve.
We watch familiar Christmas movies in December and the Rose Parade every New Year’s Day, we deliver little gifts to our neighbors for Autumn and Winter, we spend Valentine’s Day together with a special dinner as a whole family; the familiarity of these traditions help to mark the time of a season that can seem interminable and it gives us something else to look forward to.
Hygge has changed my Winter, but it’s also contributed to a change in perspective on life overall. Between discovering hygge and reading books like Essentialism by Greg McKeown and The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer, my life is a lot slower than it was a few years ago. I used to live a life of intense busyness and stress, but over time I’ve been able to replace that with a life that’s busy, but almost never hurried. And lack of hurry and stress means more time to pay attention and recognize the simple things that bring comfort and kindness, more time to be present with the people right in front of me at this very moment.
If there was ever a year we needed hygge in our lives, it’s 2020. Our nervous systems are at capacity and they need all the warmth and soothing they can get. Choose one or two small ways you can make your home and life a little more hyggeligt. Let’s take a cue from our Scandinavian friends and hygge all the way to Spring.
“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”Percy Bysshe Shelley
*I’m pretty sure hygge is not a verb, so pardon my extensive use of artistic license in using it as one.