If you live in the northern hemisphere, then you are very aware that we are inching our way towards the shortest day of the year. With increased darkness daily and the drop in temperature, you might find yourself struggling with your energy level as well as keeping an upbeat perspective on life.
Although November and December are filled with joyous holidays, you still might find yourself feeling a little down as you wake in the dark and arrive home from work in the dark.
Shorter days and lack of sunlight can affect our health. From declining vitamin D levels to increased sedentary hours, all can have an effect on our overall health and perspective.
But despair not, I’m here to tell you there’s a different perspective that can set you free and have you embracing this colder, darker time of the year.
The urge to retreat into your home and not emerge until the flowers are beginning to poke out can be quite strong. And perhaps we should be following the lead of Mother Nature by using this time to rest and rejuvenate ourselves. After all, our circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycle) are directly influenced by the rising and setting of the sun.
Depending on where you live, winter days can get really short (or disappear entirely) and be very really cold or rainy.
We’ve lived in a place where it gets so cold that you don’t see your neighbors for 4 months.
A lot of people living in colder climates opt for a self-imposed hibernation, where they spend most of their free time indoors, at home. You may catch a glimpse of your neighbor as you clear the snow off the car or shovel the driveway but that may be the extent of your social interactions within your community. This isolation can make the winter drag on feeling more like a year than a few months.
Shifting Our Attitude
Believe it or not, there are some things that you can do to help boost your energy and mood during these darker, colder and dreary months. Instead of fighting the shorter days and colder weather, why not embrace it this year?
Really? You might be thinking?
How? You might be wondering?
It’s time to take a lesson from the Danes.
The Danish people are known as some of the happiest people in the world despite freezing cold temperatures and days with only 6 hours of sunlight during the winter months.
It’s all in their attitude.
It’s Time To Get Hygge
In Scandinavian countries, like Denmark, there is a different perspective. It even has a word, hygge (pronounced hoo-gah). This Danish word can be roughly translated to mean “coziness.” It’s a practice that’s been embedded into the Danish culture as a lifestyle where they have learned to embrace the consequences of less light, more cold, and greater limitations to time outside.
Instead of retreating to their homes for the winter season, they embrace the heart of winter to feed their spirits, by slowing down, appreciating the little things in life and spending time with family and friends. The concept goes beyond the physical and it is a cultural antidote for cold, solitude and stress.
Hygge is a way of life for the Danes and something they practice all year round. For us, in the Northern Hemisphere, it can be particularly effective during the trying dark winter months. You may already practice some aspects of Hygge without even knowing it. It is captured well in the best circumstances of holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, where we slow down, dine together, appreciate each other and feel thankful.
Practical Tips for getting more Hygge in your life:
Before we delve into creating Hygge, one important note to remember is that the whole idea behind Hygge is to keep is simple, easy and enjoyable.
1. Light more candles
Candlelight is an important part of Hygge. The Danes burn more candles per head than anywhere else in the world. Dining by candle light or just illuminating a room with candles is a great way to bring Hygge into your home.
Candles add a warm, cozy, softness to any room. Spending time in a room lite by candle light prior to bedtime is a wonderful way to support your production of melatonin (a hormone that helps you to fall asleep and is part of your natural circadian rhythm). Candlelight counteracts the effects of harsh blue light (TV, computer screens, iPads, cell phones, artificial lights in the house, etc.) which disrupt our sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm). If you are having trouble sleeping, get some tips in our Restorative Sleep Guide.
2. Get outside
We all know how important it is to spend time outside, especially during the winter months when our houses are heated and the windows kept close, reducing air quality. Fresh air does the body good. Just like you learned in elementary school trees use photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide into the oxygen we need to breathe, so if you can talk a walk in a wooded area.
Action: Bundle up and go for a walk in the woods, go tobogganing with you kids, pack a lunch and set our for a day of exploration around where you live, make an outdoor fire.
We tend to be more sedentary during the winter months but exercise boosts serotonin and helps balance cortisol and dopamine levels. Therefore, incorporating regular exercise into your life will naturally boost your mood – and you can do it for free!
Action: Try sledding, skiing, hiking, snowshoeing or simply taking a walk. Whatever form of exercise you chose, make sure to engage in it regularly.
An important part of Hygge is social interaction with friends and family. Embrace the darkness and create wonderful, fun family/friend experiences and environments.
Action: Invite family and friends over dinner, drinks, a games night, etc. Remember that it should be simple, easy and enjoyable so instead of hosting a dinner party, invite everyone over for a potluck and leave your house as is. A more relaxed host will radiate a sense of ease and enjoyment of having guests over.
Bring out all your warm blankets and plush pillows and create a space where you can cozy up with a book, a cup of tea or to watch a movie.
5. Enjoy Food
A big part of Hygge is to be in the moment and enjoy it. This may include indulging in homemade sweets, drinks or hearty meals. Whatever it is, make sure to let go of the stress, savor it and realize how fortunate you are.
Action: Nourish your soul with healthy foods. Take the time to enjoy warm hearty stews and soups with fresh vegetables, bone broth, or homemade treats like these:
6. Slow Down
Taking the time to slow down and enjoy the little things goes a long way in bringing down stress levels and increasing happiness.
Action: Incorporate at least one long, leisurely meal a week, whether with family, friends or by yourself.
If you begin to incorporate all or some of these tips, you’ll begin to feel the effects of Hygge and understand why it is such an important part of the Danish lifestyle.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Helen Russel, author of The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country.
“The rest of the world seems to be slowly waking up to what Danes have been wise to for generations – that having a relaxed, cosy time with friends and family, often with coffee, cake or beer, can be good for the soul.”