Spring is right around the corner. But until then, we still have a few more weeks of cold, dark days. I consider myself a warm weather gal. I adore summer and basking in the sun for hours. Which is why I, like many people, struggle with winter and the cold. Just hearing the words “winter is coming” is a huge bummer (or it reminds me of Game of Thrones).
It makes sense why winter is our most dreaded season. With shorter days, we lose valuable sun exposure. The sun provides Vitamin D, which in turn boosts our mood. This is why many people experience an increase in depression over the winter months. The winters are particularly challenging for people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (known as SAD), a condition where depression symptoms occur during the winter due to lack of light exposure. Couple that with the decreased movement most us are getting during the winter. As a psychotherapist, I often see a big increase in reported depression symptoms during the winter months.
With all of these negative factors, I had come to loathe winter. Even the fall season, a time I used to love, started to look like the grim reaper to winter.
Last winter, I took a hard look at how this doom and gloom attitude was affecting my mood. The more we believe something will be miserable, chances are it will. Needing some winter therapy, I stumbled across the concept of hygge. Hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”) is a Norwegian and Danish term. There is no direct translation but it can be roughly defined as a cozy lifestyle that encourages contentment and wellbeing. The hygge lifestyle is often credited as the reason why Norway and Denmark are frequently ranked high on the world’s happiness report. Interestingly, these countries are also known for long, harsh winters. So what is hygge and how can it help us not just survive the winter but actually enjoy it?
The Cozy Factor
One of the pillars of hygge is the concept of being cozy, something we all need during the winter. But it's not just staying warm and bundling up. It’s creating a mood inside your home that makes it extra cozy and inviting. Picture this for a moment: a beautiful log cabin, with a roaring fire, a plush carpet in front of it, with candles all around. Nestled on the couch are fluffy blankets and soft pillows. A cup of hot chocolate sits on a nearby coffee table. Lovely, right? That image is part of hygge’s essence. Make your home a place you want to relax in. Pick blankets and pillows that not only keep you warm but spark joy (think Marie Kondo, surround yourself with objects that elicit joy). This applies not just to our objects but our own clothing as well. Wear clothing that you want to snuggle up in. A warm, fluffy pair of socks. A sweater with delicious texture. Pick clothing that makes you excited to stay in and relax. Think of hygge as a full sensory experience. All of your five senses will be engaged, this is what creates such a deep feeling of relaxation and contentment.
Set the Mood
When I first learned about hygge, I was struck by how important lighting was: a roaring fire, soft lamps and candles (lots of candles). But then I remembered how important lighting is to our mood. Bright fluorescent lights remind us of a doctor’s office and is unlikely to encourage relaxation. These bright lights also tell your brain to wake up and stay alert. Soft lighting lets us relax and unwind. Creating a hygge environment is similar to the kind you would want to create for a romantic date night at home. Except now you would be creating that romantic lighting on a consistent basis.
Add Some Deliciousness
The concept of hygge applies not just to our setting but what we eat and drink as well. So what beverages do you want to consume in the winter? Hot chocolate, tea, mulled wine. All cozy beverages you would want to sip in front of a roaring fire. Similar for the types of foods we indulge in the winter, like hearty stews. It’s important to really savor your food and drink and consume mindfully.
Be In The Moment
Speaking of mindful! Perhaps what I love most about hygge is the emphasis on mindfulness and being present. It’s about time with family and friends and doing just that, being together. Whether it’s board games, sitting around the fire or talking over a cup of tea, it’s being present with the people you care about. That means unplugging and not scrolling through your phone during a game of Scrabble. There’s also a lovely simplicity to it, that gets forgotten in many households. The Danish culture knows this, which is why there is such an emphasis on quality time with family and loved ones. This reveals another reason why Denmark is routinely listed as one of the happiest countries. Research has shown that being fully present in our daily lives leads to increased joy and fulfillment. When we are present, we are truly savoring the moment. We are not focused on our thoughts and worries. It’s not bigger homes or better technology that leads to happiness. It’s better health, time with loved ones and being present that creates joy.
So, the next time you feel that familiar winter loathing and longing for summer, try instead to embrace the season. See winter as a time to reset and relax. Grab a comfy blanket, snatch up that book you’ve been dying to read and light up a delicious smelling candle. Winter is here. We cannot change the seasons. But we can change how we respond to it.