Feeding the flame: 7 helpful tips on improving your contentment this Winter season
The Oxford dictionary defines Hygge (pronounced hue-guh) as: “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture”.
You may have heard of this term as a “millennial” trend on Instagram when describing fluffy pillows, big mugs of piping hot cocoa, fuzzy slippers, and oversized flannel scarves. While these things may fall under the umbrella of the hygge definition, it’s so much more than a passing trend or a popular aesthetic. It’s not really about consumerism at all, but about seeking refuge indoors and finding comfort, pleasure, and warmth in the company of the people you love. An emphasis on the joy in the little things that soothe and bring you a sense of safety and gratitude.₁ It’s about being in the moment.
The term “hygge” as we know it today has been traced all the way back to the 1800s. Originating from a similar Norse word which translates to “protected from the outside world.” Hygge philosophy encourages the Danes to find opportunities where they can during the cold winter months to create authentic, warm, and joyful atmospheres. They spend quality time with people they love and have genuine and meaningful conversations that spark connections and deep fulfillment.
According to the website visitdenmark.com one writer muses, “Perhaps hygge explains why the Danes are some of the happiest people in the world…”
Danish winters are also long and daylight is scarce. To help combat the darkness and to invoke a sense of joy, they light lots of candles. Of course, Winter is dark and expansive in other parts of the world as well. Depending on where you live, you may only have a few hours or no daylight at all during the winter months. Lighting candles to improve mood and atmosphere in the winter months is a pastime in which many cultures participate. In America, a survey by The National Candle Association found that 9 out of 10 people that use candles report burning them because it makes the room feel cozier. During the winter months, the candle can be seen as a symbol of something larger. A beacon of light in the literal darkness.
It may also help create and hold on to your happy memories, since scents have been found to trigger memories and moments in your past. Rache Harz, a neuroscientist at Brown university states in an article in Psychology Today: “An odor has no personal significance until it becomes connected to something that has meaning...With your initial encounter, you begin forming nerve connections that intertwine the smell with emotions. The capacities for both smell and emotion are rooted in the same network of brain structures, the limbic system. The olfactory center also interacts directly with the hippocampus, a brain area involved in the formation of new memories”.
Hygge is all about creating happy and meaningful new memories. How lovely would it be to be able to bring yourself right back to that moment when you felt absolutely content and perfectly yourself?
Unfortunately, those moments can be few and far between living in this fast-paced society where work, other obligations and our smartphones demand most of our concentration. So every once in a while, try and pay attention to the scents of your surroundings. Take note of your best friend’s perfume. The smell of fresh, piping hot coffee first thing when you wake up in the morning. The way the cold air smells right before it snows. Be mindful of the experience of the life you are living.
In the spirit of all this, and taking inspiration from the wise and worldly Danes and their concept of hygge, these tips may help improve your spirits during these long wintery days:
- Light a candle or two to lift your spirits and try to simply be in the present moment. Close your eyes and take a deep breath.
- Appreciate all the small things that bring you gratitude and happiness. Surround yourself with those things.
- Spend quality time with people you love. Have deep and honest conversations to connect with them in a meaningful way. Really see them and let them see you.
- During the holiday season especially, recognize that being with friends and family really is what matters the most.
- Take time to rest and reflect. Winter is nature’s way of encouraging us to nurture ourselves and embrace this restoration.
- Catch up with a friend for a couple hours at a comfortable local coffee shop or cafe. This also has the added benefit of supporting small businesses and your immediate community.
- Throw a small dinner party for you and your closest friends. Keep your phones off or on silent so you may fully relish the moment while making memories you’ll cherish for a lifetime.
So take long naps on those fluffy pillows. Light those scented candles and make some new happy memories. Add whipped cream to that hot cocoa. Cook a comforting meal. Invite your nearest and dearest friends to join you. When you are feeling like you need a bit of light in your life, take every opportunity you can to brighten it.
Note: Pillows and cocoa aside, enjoying an experience does not need to be something that costs money or anything other than the time you freely choose to spend on it. Some of these suggestions are merely symbols or a means to gently enhance an occasion. After all, how does the saying go….”the best things in life are free”? Indeed.
Would you like to learn more about the Danish concept of Hygge? Check out this video from Jeppe Linnet, anthropologist and a renowned expert on hygge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9y6WES0I4yA
by Jessie Leonhardt