Celebrating the Cozy to Stave Off the Winter Blues
Though hygge is a defining characteristic of the Danish people, the term originates from a Norwegian word that means “well-being.” Just like the concept of well-being, hygge is nuanced, complex, and hard to define. It has been described as “the art of creating intimacy,” “coziness of the soul,” “like a hug without touching” or – my personal favorite – “cocoa by candlelight.” Hygge is a sense of safety, created through your physical, emotional, and social environment. It is experienced with all five senses – touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing. To the Danes hygge is both a noun and a verb. “Would you like to come over tonight and hygge?” Its derivative, “hyggelige” is both an adjective and an adverb. “That lamp is so hyggelige!” But to me, hygge is permission to celebrate winter – as best I can.
As someone who didn’t grow up in Denmark – or has even been to Denmark for that matter – hygge has become deeply personal. Winter is exceptionally trying for me. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This means that, I am especially sensitive to changes in light. As soon as the days start diminishing, I start experiencing symptoms of depression. I feel hopeless or worthless. I lose interest in activities I usually enjoy. I feel sluggish and agitated. I am depressed. Some people call it “winter blues,” but don’t let the whimsical name fool you, when people experience SAD there is nothing whimsical about it.
Learning about hygge and practicing it has had a significant impact on my mental health, especially during the darker months. If the Danes – a people who live through a much harsher winter than I do in the suburban North East – can manage to celebrate the season, then so can I! Hygge isn’t just a challenge, but permission to enjoy the colder months. Where I am from, people wear their hatred of winter like a badge of honor. “Look at how miserable it is out!” People! We don’t live in the great white north! This kind of negative thinking only pushes me deeper into the hole. Hygge gave me permission to shift my thinking, to reframe winter in a more positive light. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a winter enthusiast just yet, but I don’t dread winter with the same gusto.
For me, hygge is about making it through. Or as Meik Wiking (2017) wrote, “Hygge is the antidote to the cold winter rainy days and the duvet of darkness. So while you can hygge all year round, it is during the winter that it becomes not only a necessity and a survival strategy,” (p. 8).
My physical environment has a significant impact on my mental well-being. So I start here when preparing to hibernate.
Arranging your home to create hygge is an art form. It can be as involved or as simplified as you want. I keep it simple. I am not living in my forever home just yet, so I do what I can with what I already have. With the exception of candles. You can never have too many candles! In fact, when asked, the Danish people named candles as the number one item they associate with hygge (Wiking, 2017).
I make my home the kind of space that I would not mind spending five months cooped up in. I engage in Fall cleaning. Spring cleaning? That’s so last year. I deep clean everything! Making sure to remember all those blankets I am going to be curling up in. Then once everything is clean, I arrange my space in such a way that celebrates the relationships in my life. I remind myself that even on the darkest days when I feel utterly unloved – people do still love me. I frame pictures of moments throughout the year that bring me joy - the Bean’s first birthday, friendsgiving or celebrating Christmas with my extended family.
I arrange the space in such a way that encourages nesting, warmth and cozy downtime. I make blankets, sweaters, wool socks and slippers easily accessible. I collect tokens from our time outside. I decorate with pinecones, branches, rocks, moss and whatever – aesthetically pleasing – detritus that my daughter brings in from outside. Bonus – visitors will compliment your avant-garde interior decorating skills.
I designate a corner of the house as my spot. A challenge with small children, I know. Personal space! I do this because as much as I would love to force my choices on my family members – ie. my husband "I am right, I know it!" – I cannot and should not expect him to want to hygge with me. So, my corner is my Pinterest-worthy happy place. A place I can retreat to when I am overwhelmed. I create a cozy nest that feels like me. My mama bear den. This means warm blankets, pillows, a good book and a warm beverage at a bare minimum. In our small apartment I achieve this in our bedroom.
For many, hygge can be a social affair. Hygge happens in the comfort of small groups, engaged in quiet, meaningful conversation - usually with an alcohol beverage and comfort foods. Baked Ziti and a glass of red wine? Permission granted! Thanks, hygge!
As an introvert, I give myself permission to say no to most social engagements in the winter. Instead, I spend more time with my family. How do I hygge with my family? We curl up on the couch and enjoy a good book. But only after going outside! It may seem counter intuitive, but the easiest way to assure a sense of coziness inside your home is to spend time braving the elements. There is nothing better than curling up after a long and active session of playing outside in the snow.
If you want to deepen your sense of hygge by involving your family the steps are simply:
1. Buy your children good quality cold gear.
2. Buy yourself some good quality cold gear.
3. Use it.
The only way through winter is through. Why not have a little fun while you’re at it!
If this is your first winter trying on hygge, my hygge emergency kit includes:
1. Candles – so many candles! All year round, even when I am not in the mood, I make a habit of checking the candle sales at my local big box stores, usually Target or Marshalls Homegoods. I always have a stash of 5-8 candles at all times. In the winter, my candles hoarding reaches clinically crazy proportions. But of course be sensible about your candle burning habits. All of my candles are on high shelves and I never burn them while Bean is awake. Honestly, I think this adds to the experience - when the candles are lit I know its legit time to chillax.
2. Wool socks and quality slippers. Mine not only need to keep my feet warm, but have thick soled bottoms. This allows you to range over the hills, or to your mailbox, or to your grocery store in your pajamas if that’s your thing. No shame!
3. A warm sweater, sweatshirt or fleece – the comfier the better! My go-tos for sweaters are Eddie Bauer and LL Bean because I am an old woman at heart.
4. Tea, coffee or your warm beverage of choice. Mine? Hot Chocolate! My personal favorite is the Trader Joe’s Hot Chocolate, but if your neighborhood isn’t graced with an outpost these are my other go-tos. Honey Lavender tea, Egyptian Licorice and Korean instant coffee – it reminds me of the years I lived in Korea. So I get a delicious beverage and the happy memories I associate with it. Super hygge!
5. A mug that not only looks good on your shelf, but more important feels good in your hand. My favorite was a craft fair find. Don’t you hate that?! My life: “I love your shirt, where did you get it?” “ A thrift store.” “Gosh darn you and your environmentally and financially sound purchasing practices!I will never find it.” But the one included below is similar.
6. A warm blanket that feels pleasant. Pay attention to how things feel – tactile pleasures are more important than we think. In my family, every one – Daddy Bean, Mama Bean and Baby Bean - have microfiber blankets in different colors. This way we avoid blanket wars!
7. Pillows. I am of the opinion that throw pillows are much too expensive for what you get. So, I get all of my pillows at Ikea. If you are lucky enough to live near a store, check it out. If you aren’t, unfortunately they don’t ship their pillows. Sorry guys.
8. Comforting food. Indulge! Within reason of course.Too much overindulgence and I’ll have to be in the gym twenty-four seven. Not repurchasing my whole wardrobe thank you very much..
None of these items are particularly unique. In fact, you probably already have them in your house. Hygge is experienced in the mundane daily acts. Wiking (2017) said it best when he wrote, “Hygge is about making the most of what we have in abundance: the everyday,” (p. 221). So savor each and every cold winter day as best you can.
Have a hyggelige winter!
If you want to buy any of Ariel's favorites for fighting the winter blues, click the pictures below. This is an affiliate link, so Busy Nest News will get a little something from your purchase, which will help keep us running. Thanks!
Ariel and Brianna are friends who met while working in a library. Now they collaborate to develop life-enhancing book club experiences.
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