6 Ways To Embrace Hygge, The Danish Secret To Staying Happy During Winter

Instead of dreading the cold, dark winter months, you can learn to embrace the season.

December 1, 2016
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The next time you start grumbling about chilly weather or the fact that it’s now pitch black when you leave the office, think of Denmark. There, the sun isn’t coming up until nearly 8:40 AM, and it’s all but gone by 3:30 in the afternoon. And during January and February, the thermometer rarely makes it above freezing.

Danish people know full well that winter is a long, hard slog. But instead of letting it get them down—or just going into hibernation mode for five months—they have something called hygge (pronounced hoo-guh).

If you were to try to translate it, hygge would be more of a feeling than a word. It’s sort of a full-on embrace of all things toasty, cozy, and restorative. Like that warm wave that washes over you when you ease into a hot bubble bath. Or that feeling that everything is right in the world when you hang out with your favorite people by the fireplace with mugs of hot cider (or bourbon). Or the simple joy of petting a sleepy kitten while it purrs. It’s all hygge.

“Hygge, during the short, dark days and long nights, is akin to wintering. To slowing down, allowing the year to fold in on itself, and tending to ourselves and to each other,” says Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well. “It leads to a sense of a rich inner life that radiates out through bleak days.”

No, you might not be able to avoid waking up when it’s still dark or spending 20 minutes scraping ice off of your car. But when you bring hygge into your life, you’ll come to see that winter is much more than an endless string of those soul-crushing moments. In fact, it’s actually pretty darn great. Here’s how to give it a try. 

(Find seasonal recipes, inspiring imagery, and gardening tips every day inside the Rodale’s Organic Life 2017 Calendar!)

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Slow Down

“The secret to hygge lies in paying attention to the rhythm of our daily lives,” says Thomsen Brits. That’s tough to do when your number one focus is checking items off your to-do list. Instead of running from one thing to the next, pause to think about what really makes you feel comfortable and relaxed—and how you can work more of those things into your life. Give yourself permission to skip the gym this morning and have breakfast at the table with your family. Curl up with a book or magazine at night instead of replying to emails. You get the idea.  

Related: 10 Habits Of People Who've Lived To Be 100

boy waiting for santa
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Create A Circle Of Warmth

You can—and should—counter all that cold and darkness with warmth from candles, a string of twinkling lights, or a roaring fire. But keeping your spirits up in the winter is also about doing stuff that warms your soul. Pile everyone onto the couch for a family movie night, read books by flashlight in a blanket fort with your kids, or invite friends over for a simple pot of chili or spaghetti instead of meeting at a restaurant. “Hygge is about connection,” Thomsen Brits says. “It happens whenever we gather in a wholehearted, inclusive way.”

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Soothe Your Senses

Those harsh winds and biting temperatures are physically uncomfortable, and walking around in a world that’s covered in shades of gray is downright depressing. So find little ways to compensate for all that sensory unpleasantness: Wear a luxuriously soft sweater, decorate the kitchen table with a bright bowl of oranges or lemons, or play some old, cozy jazz music while you cook dinner instead of having the TV on in the background. It makes a difference. 

Here's a super-simple way to make a cozy roasted butternut squash soup for cold winter evenings:

Related: 5 Amazing Benefits Of Being Kinder To Yourself

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Embrace The Small Stuff

Everyone has their favorite rituals—like slowly brewing your morning coffee, listening to a podcast during your commute, or putting on those worn-in wool slippers when you get home from work. These rituals are small, but comforting—and they'll help you feel grounded and cared for, says Thomsen Brits. So during the winter, make it even more of a point not to skip them. (Try this simple grounding practice you can try absolutely anywhere.)

snuggly cat
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Celebrate The Season

It’s (sort of) easy to love winter during the holidays. But once the cheery decorations come down, things can get bleak. But only if you let them. “With hygge, we don’t fight winter, we take advantage of it,” Thomsen Brits says. Instead of seeing January, February, and March as dismal months to get through, change your perspective: Winter can be awful, or it can be a restorative opportunity to slow down and savor the ultra-cozy stuff that feels out of place the rest of the year. (Hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows, anyone?)

Related: 4 Ways To Brighten Up Your Winter

 
 
indoor winter activities
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Know That It Won't Last Forever

Part of adopting an optimistic—and even welcoming—attitude toward winter is remembering that it will, eventually, end. (Yes, the Polar Vortex sucks. But it’s not actually the end of the world.) Six months from now, when you’re enshrouded in hot steam the second you walk out the door, you might actually think back to that crazy snowstorm and think, It was kind of nice—wasn’t it?