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5 Ways to practice “hygge” and banish your winter blues

MUG NEAR FIREPLACE
Bonninstudio | Stocksy United
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This mindset embraces a season of coziness, connection, and rest.

If the groundhog was right, we’ve got at least another month of cold to look forward to. This realization fills me with dread. It’s not like winter is unfamiliar. I grew up in New England and have lived the last 15 years in Nebraska. I’ve weathered blizzards, ice storms, power outages, and snowbanks so high you’re forced to creep your car halfway into the intersection to see past them. Yet as each year passes, it’s more difficult to endure this long season of indoorness and isolation.

And it’s not just me. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the most common form of which is winter depression, affects an estimated four to six percent of Americans, with another 10 to 20 percent experiencing a mild form of the seasonal disorder. SAD affects four times as many women as men, and it’s more prevalent the farther north you live. For example, the disorder is seven times more common in the state of Washington than it is in Florida.

Enter hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”). It comes from a Scandinavian word meaning “well-being,” and has been adopted by the Danish as a way not only to ward off the winter blues, but to actually embrace and celebrate the gifts offered by the colder, darker season. Hygge is loosely translated as “coziness” in English, but it’s actually much more than that, argue its Danish practitioners. It’s an attitude, a way of being.

In Denmark, where winter days are marked by up to 17 hours of darkness and an average temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, people practice hygge in simple but intentional ways: welcoming friends and family into their homes for a meal; gathering around a crackling fire; cooking comforting foods; sipping warm beverages; lighting plentiful candles; and snuggling into soft sweaters beneath warm blankets. Nothing about hygge is fancy or elaborate. Instead, the focus is on simplicity, intimacy, connection, comfort, warmth, and rest.

The Danes are clearly doing something right. Denmark was named the world’s happiest country in 2016, followed by Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, and Finland — all northern European countries with long winters.

“The rest of the world seems to be slowly waking up to what Danes have been wise to for generations—that having a relaxed, cozy time with friends and family, often with coffee, cake or beer, can be good for the soul,” Helen Russell, author of The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country, told BBC News.

The practice of hygge makes sense spiritually, as well. As the Bible says: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Most of us live at breakneck speed, especially during the months of November and December, when we add shopping, decorating, baking, and wrapping to our to-do lists, and our calendars fill up with more social activities than ever.

Come January 2, the house is stripped clean of its holiday décor, and the calendar reveals rows of unmarked blocks — and yet, we resist the comparative quiet and emptiness of the deep winter months. So much time and space makes us feel anxious and restless because we simply do not know how to rest.

The season of winter, with its short days and long nights and its hush of frenetic activity, is an invitation to rest, to allow ourselves the space and time for quiet contemplation and the opportunity to connect more deeply with our loved ones, with our own selves, and with God.

“Humans, just like the natural world, are meant to cycle through seasons of dormancy and new life, activity and contemplation, celebration and sadness, blossom and harvest, openness and closedness, austerity and abundance,” says Adam McHugh, author of The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction. “I believe the seasons serve as a lesson book for the soul, instructing us when to move fast and when to slow down, when to act and when to rest, when to focus on the world outside and when to hibernate and go down deep.”

5 tips for introducing hygge into your life

Winter is not likely to ever become my favorite season of the year. But as I mull the Bible’s words about seasons and time, I am opening myself to the possibility that I may discover the quieter, subtler gifts inherent in winter.

Tonight, after I walk the dog in the dark, I’ll slide an apple crisp into the oven, pull on a pair of my coziest socks, light a vanilla-scented candle, and settle into the sofa with a soft quilt and a good book. In other words, I’m going to kick off the season of hygge.

If you’d like to introduce some hygge into your home this winter, here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Soften Lighting

Turn off harsh, overhead fixtures and light candles instead. Candles are an integral part of creating hygge, which emphasizes soft, warm lighting and small, cozy spaces. Don’t save your candles just for special occasions. Light one and place it on the kitchen counter while you cook dinner, on your desk as you pay bills, and on the table while you sip your morning coffee.

2. Practice hospitality

Danes offer their guests a beverage or snack almost immediately after they cross the threshold. Keep favorite foods and drinks on hand to offer guests who visit frequently to make them instantly feel at home. “Social interactions on a small and cozy scale are at the centre of hygge. Danes don’t tend to go out a lot in the colder months, so they socialize at each other’s houses,” writes Laura Agar Wilson at Wholeheartedly Healthy.

3. Stay a while

While Americans are known to dine and dash, Danes will linger at the table long after dinner is finished, says author and interior stylist Holly Becker. This winter, resolve to relax at the dinner table with your kids at least one night a week. When you have guests over, don’t leap up to clear the dinner plates and serve dessert. Say a prayer together. Allow yourself to relax and indulge in deeper, more meaningful conversation.

4. Simplify

Instead of acquiring and accumulating, move toward minimalism. Decorate, as the Danes do, with intention, focusing on a few key pieces rather than a cluttered mishmash. “[I]f there’s something you really want in your home that’s a bit expensive, save up and buy it anyway rather than settling for something that’s just OK. And conversely, cheap things are fine too, if you like them,” writes the lighting-design blog Pooky.

5. Connection over perfection

Don’t exhaust yourself preparing a lavish, six-course meal for your guests. Instead, plan something simple like a soup or stew, crisp salad, and fresh bread. “One of the most important concepts of hygge is to get together with close friends and loved ones in a relaxed environment. Think less formal sit-down dinner party and more a get-together over a good bottle of wine, accompanied by hearty comfort food,” writes Charlotte Luxford for the Culture Trip.

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