For some, winter is a magical time of year. For others like me, it’s a gloomy, cold, darkness you just have to wait out. But there’s a better way to get through winter. A mindset that involves embracing the unique aspects of the winter months. Enter the Danish concept of “hygge”.
Hygge, which is actually a word of Norwegian origin, is pronounced “hoo-gah” and loosely translates to “cosiness”. But while cosiness is a major piece of the puzzle, hygge is really more of an attitude or mindset. As Natalie Van Deusen, professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Alberta, puts it:
The best translation is coziness, but not the physical coziness that you get when you put on a sweater or cuddle up with a blanket. It’s more of a state mental balance and psychological well-being.
It’s a feeling many of us feel when we return home. But it doesn’t have to go away when you head back to the real world. And, believe me, the Danish know what they’re talking about. They have some of the longest, harshest winters, yet they’re one of the happiest countries in the world. Here are some tips on how you can achieve hygge this winter and hopefully enjoy it more than usual.
Double Down On Cosiness
It may not be the true definition of hygge, but getting physically cosy can still help. Basically, become an expert at hunkering down at home and getting as comfortable as possible. Reading a book by the fire with a hot drink is hygge. So is eating homemade baked goods while watching TV under a mountain of blankets. You can never have enough blankets, pillows, warm socks, hot drinks, or cuddling with your pet or significant other.
To achieve the ultimate cosy atmosphere, Susanne Nilsson, a lecturer on Danish language at Morley College, suggests you mind the space around you. It’s best to avoid large, empty rooms, as well as spaces that look cold. Ditch the fluorescent lights and use other types of lighting to your advantage to make big rooms feel smaller and warmer. Meik Wiking, the author of The Little Book of Hygge, recommends you light a ton of candles; use lamps with warm, soft-lit bulbs; and get a fire going in the fireplace if you have one. If not, even a TV with a fake fireplace video can help. It’s all about transforming your home to match the aesthetics of the season so it feels like an impenetrable fortress of happiness and warmth.
Think of winter as your time to hibernate and your warm home as your bear cave. Use the winter as an excuse to do all of those things you’ve been putting off. Cuddle up on the couch and finally finish that book, stay under your covers and get through that TV show everyone has been talking about, or hop in the bath and listen to your backlog of podcasts. Do those things you won’t have time for once the weather clears up and you want to go outside instead. I’ve been spending more time in my comfy bed, sipping great coffee, reading books and playing Vita games I haven’t finished yet.
Gather With Good Company as Often as You Can
The winter often dwindles the amount of time you spend with others. Harsh cold, foul weather and dangerous roads makes gatherings and outings a hassle. But companionship and friendliness is an essential aspect of hygge, and the Danish believe maintaining strong social connections are good for the soul.
There are two ways to go about hygge-style gatherings. First, you can organise regular, relaxed meetups with friends or family at someone’s home with snacks, treats and delicious drinks. Helen Russell, the author of The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country, suggests these gatherings are about nothing more than indulging and having a nice time. So invite your friends over; have some cake, coffee, cider, doughnuts or whatever you like; and just spend time chatting in your cosy living room and enjoying each other’s company. The more often you do this the better. Pro tip: Bust out the seasonal items to truly embrace what the winter has to offer. Beers, cookies, and anything else that is exclusive to this time of year.
If you don’t have a comfy home, you can have hygge-style gatherings in cosy restaurants, bars, cafes or even bookstores. Don’t let those comfy couches at the local cafe go to waste. My friends and I like boardgame cafes, where you can keep warm, have coffee, and play a ton of games for cheap. And if you’re on your own in a new place, the Lonely Planet Guide to Copenhagen suggests hygge participants don’t even have to be people you know. Post up at a cosy cafe or bar and try to make some new friends.
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Appreciate Winter Wonderlands In the Right Gear
I hate being cold and wet, so I don’t like going out in the snow or freezing wind. And because of that, I’ve never invested in decent winter garb. Could it be that I don’t enjoy being out in the cold simply because I’ve prevented myself from being properly prepared for it? If I did buy some nice winter clothes, and they kept me warm, maybe I’d actually enjoy it…
As Pia Edberg, the author of The Cozy Life: Rediscover the Joy of the Simple Things Through the Danish Concept of Hygge, explains, experiencing nature is an aspect of hygge as much as being cosy by a fire is:
As the old saying goes: ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.’
Just because it’s freezing out doesn’t mean you don’t need a little activity, even if it’s just a walk. Get a nice jacket, pair of gloves, boots, hats, snow pants, whatever you need to step outside and feel 100 per cent comfortable. Again, not “warm enough”, 100 per cent comfortable. And when you do go outside, consider doing activities you can only do during the winter. It could be skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, sledding or having a snowball fight. Try to appreciate the activities, sights and sounds you can only experience during this time of year and you’ll stop wishing it was summer already.
Slow Down and Find Joy In the Little Things
Not only is hygge about pursuing mental well being, it’s about finding joy in the most humdrum aspects of life. Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort and Connection, recommends you find a way to make mundane tasks fun. Turn daily to-dos into a game, make chores something to look forward to by treating yourself, and let the mundanity of daily life be a catalyst for whimsy. Hygge is as much about mindfulness as it is about cosiness and a sense of belonging. It’s about being more connected to the real world and showing gratitude for what you have.
Wiking sums up the essence of hygge as “the pursuit of everyday happiness”. It’s using the winter months to focus on the simple pleasures in life, strive for relaxation and comfort, and pursue togetherness on a daily basis. When you look at winter through a lens like that, it feels a whole lot warmer. Who knows? You might even start to miss winter come spring time.
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