Oh winter. I love you and hate you. The morning frost on the trees is just so majestic and the blue skies and sunlight that dances on the white blanket of snow are intoxicating. For a while. Then the cold and slush and shoveling and sniffling and dry skin and hat head hair just need to go.
Are we on the same page? Please don't comment and make me cry if you live in a tropical climate unless you're extending me an invite to visit.
In my annual quest to endure winter I've found that one way to avoid feeling dreary through the long cold months is to warm up my home with natural plants, soy candles, and cozy textural blankets and throw mats, and to give myself permission to go to bed early and read lots of books. I also enjoy the hibernation high of curling up with a tea and enjoying a Netflix binge.
In fact, the Danish have a word for this: hygge (pronounced 'hoo-gah'). It's an old-world term for well-being that the Danish have adopted as embracing life, living cozily, hunkering down and snuggling up to enjoy your home and yourself and others. Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, says in The Little Book of Hygge that "Hygge has been translated as everything from the art of creating intimacy to cosiness of the soul to taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things." In her book, The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country, Helen Russell says that the best explanation of hygge she heard was “the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming."
Since the Danes are ranked as among the happiest in the world, they may be onto something. I think maybe all of us who live in Denmark and Canada and other cold winter climes practice hygge on some level instinctively. We almost have to just to survive the fewer hours of sunlight and outdoor time available to us. But if we could consciously and more intentionally recognize and embrace hygge, we could actually enjoy the full extent of the season instead of grumble our way through it.
If we set up our homes for hygge, we can better take advantage of this time of year to slow down a little, stop checking emails and social media, and perhaps watch a movie, make a bowl of stove-popped popcorn, enjoy an actual magazine, knit some wool socks and then wear them, talk to our plants, curl up with a hot tea, take a long bath, do a jigsaw puzzle and get in our PJ's as soon as we get home. Or something like that.
So, are we all ready to dance in our cozy living rooms for another 2-3 months of winter? OK, maybe that's pushing it, but here are some ways we can set up our homes to embrace hygge. And perhaps smile a bit more over the coming weeks.
1. Bring natural elements like plants, flowers, branches, wood, and even rocks inside to kindle that intrinsic connection with nature. A wooden coat rack adds natural warmth and a place to hang a cozy sweater. Lots of plants will also help clean the air of toxins that get trapped inside with windows closed up tight.
2. Use cozy materials like wool, linen, jute, sisal, felt, cotton, and mohair to enhance the tactile enjoyment of rest. Add a sheepskin mat on the floor or laid over a chair. Sink your toes into the fluffiest of bath mats. Have a chunky wool blanket on every chair to curl up in. Add an extra soft throw at the foot of your bed. Change your pillowcases to ones that are ultra soft and warm. Put a basket of cozy socks and slippers at the door to change into when you arrive home.
3. Up the ambiance with soy or beeswax candles and a jar of Epsom salts with lavender oil by the bathtub. Use soft lighting from table lamps to cast a warm and inviting glow. Run an essential oil diffuser to scent and clean the air. Create a drink station on the kitchen counter so that making naturally sweet-scented and soothing herbal teas is convenient and easy.
4. Indulge in healthy comfort food. Winter is a great time to let out your inner chef and explore new recipe books for hearty dishes and yummy baked treats made with organic whole foods that will boost your happiness and your immunity. Organize your kitchen to have spices and baking ingredients and cooking utensils at the ready. Invite friends over to sample your wares.
5. Be mindful and fully enjoy what you do, even if that's nothing. To embrace hygge is to appreciate downtime and also time with loved ones. So stop multi-tasking and start enjoying the moment. Talk to a friend on the phone instead of texting her and watching TV at the same time. Break out the board games and gather the whole family around the table. Set the dinner table with your fancy dishes or placemats along with a couple of taper candles. Practice yoga poses while playing soft music. Meditate. Journal. Watch the snow fall.
The fundamental concept of hygge is embracing life. So let's try to embrace this season - and every season - by creating a hygge happy home.