January is here.
I know it's cold. It's dark. It can feel reaaaally long ... I get it! You dread January, and February too. You think there's nothing good about the winter and that is that.
I’m here to (hopefully) change your mind. Seriously. Just think … what if you could find yourself enjoying winter? Wouldn’t that be nice? Why spend this part of the year kicking our own butts with lists of stressful resolutions and cursing the snow? There is ANOTHER WAY - a way that nourishes our spirits and our relationships, and it's called HYGGE.
If you're not currently a fan of winter, I’m pretty sure you need to get some "hygge" into your life, and quick! You've probably seen the word "hygge" popping up all over social media and wondered, "What on earth is that and how to you say it??”
Quick history of hygge. (Say it with me, "HOO-guh!") It's a Danish word with Norwegian roots. Although it doesn’t translate to English, it's used to describe feelings of coziness, comfort, and well-being. It may have come from the 1560s word "hugge" which, as you probably guessed, means "to embrace,” or hug, and it is associated with the Old Norse term "hygga," which means "to comfort." Hygge is a concept that is loved and practiced throughout Scandinavia since they have some of the world's coldest, darkest winters. Now isn't that the most lovely, funny sounding word you've ever learned about?
As one of my Norwegian cousins, Nina Heen, explained, the concept of hygge isn't just a nice thing to do, but it is necessary for health reasons (darkness = depression = sick leave). She says that hygge is a part of their national work environment act because it has consquences to their bottom line, and that Norwegians would take the gold medal if the concept of hygge was an Olympic sport! There's a lot we can learn from the Norwegians about staying happy in the winter, and I here I have gathered seven simple ways to hygge!
1. Add candles and lights.
One of the reasons people feel down in the winter is the obvious lack of LIGHT. The sun rises late and goes down early, and that can feel really HEAVY. By adding soft lights all over the place, we can really brighten the mood!
My cousin, Nina Eidsnes (yes, I have two cousins in Norway named Nina), says that when she thinks of hygge, she thinks of fire. You can never have too many candles, and a fire in the fireplace if you have one. After seeing her Instagram photos of candles in the winter, I've started doing the same thing.
Every evening as the sun is setting, I light about a dozen candles that are scattered (in safe places) throughout the house - I even have little tealight candles in the bathrooms. My little Olivia says, "Mom, it's cute that we have candles in the bathroom!" I love that the kids can feel that little dose of magic that candlelight offers.
Fairy lights are perfect for hygge too. I purchased mine SPECIFICALLY for using during January and February (although I'm tempted to leave them up year round!). These beauties go up every year as soon as I box up Christmas, so my home continues to glow, even after the holidays.
2. Bring nature inside.
We love spring flowers, so let's have flowers in winter too! My sister Hailey and I were talking once about how every time we've visited Norway, one thing is for sure - our relatives have had fresh flowers on the table! So I've made a habit in the winter of scooping up a little bouquet whenever I go grocery shopping. This week I came home with a pot of pink tulips, planted in soil, for six bucks! I love that something so inexpensive can make such a difference.
I love to place little succulents around my candles, since they require little maintenance, but still add a hint of green.
Pinecones and nuts in their shells aren't leafy and green, but they up the comfort factor just by connecting us with nature. My Norwegian grandparents always had a big bowl of nuts and I remember as a kid how fun it was to crack them open.
3. Bake or cook something.
This part doesn't have to be complicated, and it's probably not something you will do everyday. But on the weekends, or whenever you want to make time for it, bake a batch of something - cookies, cake, cinnamon rolls, or whatever is your favorite treat. At my house, we typically bake a treat on Sunday afternoons, and it really is the best thing! It's usually chocolate chip cookies, browies, or Swedish pancakes. If you're not a baker, whisk up a mug of hot chocolate or make some herbal tea with toast and honey. All that matters is that you are creating something yummy for yourself, your friends, and your family that gives you an excuse to be together.
On weeknights, put your favorite soup on the stove or just enjoy a grilled cheese with your kids by candlelight. They will love it! Whatever you make, keep it cozy and simple - hygge is not hygge if it's stressful. Focus on spending time with your loved ones and you will have hygge.
4. Go outside.
"Friluftsliv" is another concept that Norwegians live by, and it's closely tied to hygge. Translated it means "free air life" - or basically finding happiness in nature despite the weather.
According to my cousin, Nina Heen, Norwegians travel to their mountain cabins and are "doing tons of hygge activities" this time of year. "Cheap and cheerful activities is the Norwegian concept of hygge and I love it," she messaged me (complete with the heart-eyes emoji).
Weekends are filled with sledding, cross-country skiing, gathering around the outdoor fireplace drinking warm cocoa with milk and cream, roasting sausages on a stick (pølse med brød) and eating oranges (this is important, she says) and "Kvikk Lunsj" (similar to Kit Kat bars in the US).
"This is a ritual we do outside when cross-country skiing. You will only meet smiling and happy Norwegians in the mountains and we even stop to talk to everyone, and that is NOT typical to do," she says. (Norwegians typically keep to themselves.)
There's a Norwegian expression my dad has always said, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing." So bundle up, and head out there! Even if it's a small neighborhood walk, the fresh air and exercise will give you a lift.
As much as I love social media, it is a relief to get away from my phone now and then! Makes me feel extra hygge when I do because it helps me really connect with the people I love most.
In the winter at our house, my younger kids and I like to snuggle up in my bed and read together at night (Little House in the Big Woods is our current favorite). I usually have a book of my own I'm reading too and it's so nice to look at something besides a screen.
We always have games out on the kitchen table in the winter. Some of our family's favorites are Mancala, Telestrations, Rubik's Race, Exploding Kittens and Saboteur - quick and easy! I'm not a huge fan of games that last hours, so these ones are perfect and they help bring our family together.
Family movie nights with buttered popcorn are a Friday night tradition all winter long (I know, it's technically not "unplugged" but it is cozy!). If you've never seen the old Disney movie Snowball Express, this is a perfect time to watch it!
6. Add warm layers everywhere.
Cover your furniture with soft blankets and fur rugs. Surround yourself with favorite photos. Grab yourself some fun socks or slippers, and pull on your favorite sweater on snowy days. Super easy. (Also ... do you have your print of my painting "Let's Hygge" yet?)
7. Do something kind.
This idea may not be typically hygge, but doing something thoughtful for another human being has the incredible power to help anyone feel happier. If you think about it, getting out of your own world and sharing your love for others could quite possibly be the best hygge tip!
So maybe pick up an extra bunch of flowers for your sister ... package up some of those cookies for a friend ... drop off some candles to someone who is feeling down ... read a story with your littlest ... and smile because the snow makes everything look SO PRETTY.