December 27, 2016

Hygge: What it is & How it’s Helping me Embrace Winter.

For all of my life, my ideal weather has fallen into a very narrow range: I get too cold when it’s below 70 degrees and I don’t like it to be much hotter than 85.

Of course, it also goes without saying that it should be clear blue skies and sunny. (This is when most people are surprised to discover that I was born in February and grew up in New York!)

I have always felt like winter is something I simply “get through,” with spring and summer as my “rewards” for doing so each year. When I moved to Colorado 15 years ago, I was determined to cultivate a love of winter and all the things the cold and snow offered. I had left the “sleet” and was excited to see this “powder” everyone talked about!

I moved to Boulder in the summertime and I quickly fell in love with hiking. If I liked hiking so much, surely I would like snowshoeing in the winter, right? Nope, definitely not for me! I couldn’t wait to dunk in the jacuzzi and “defrost” everything from my toes up to my nose!

What about skiing or snowboarding? They must be great if Colorado companies actually allotted their employees “ski days,” in addition to their sick and personal days. Nope, neither one was for me! I’d rather sip hot chocolate in the lodge and get a hot stone massage while my friends hit the slopes.

Each fall I couldn’t fathom why my friends would be eagerly awaiting the first snowfall because, to be honest, I have spent many winter days staring outside my window at the snow-covered landscape trying to convince myself that it was as “beautiful” as those around me saw it.

So, I recently found myself back to where I was when I moved here 15 years ago—gearing up to merely survive another winter.

Then I came across a Danish word called hygge, and it helped me realize I was approaching winter all wrong.

Before I define hygge, let me first tell you what I learned about Denmark. At this time of year, temperatures rarely climb above freezing, the sun doesn’t rise until 8:40 a.m. and it sets by 3:30 p.m.! I found this fascinating because most of us have probably heard that Denmark is consistently ranked one of the happiest countries in the world. How could that be?

Back to hygge. Hygge (pronounced “hooga”) is the Danish ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures. There is no direct translation for hygge, because it is often described as more of a feeling than a word. It’s basically a way to embrace all things cozy, warm, and restorative. It is the feeling you get from finding genuine pleasure in making ordinary, everyday moments more meaningful or special.

Hygge was just the perspective on winter I needed. Rather than trying to convince myself that I could love winter, what if I simply embraced those simple moments found in the winter months that I naturally find joy in? The ones that truly suit me? Excitedly, I wrote them down…

I love slowing down. Earlier sunsets and more hours of darkness allow me the opportunity to slow down, and slowing down suits me. This comes in the form of going to bed earlier, reading more, lighting candles, making fires, and spending more time simply relaxing. On winter weekends, I get to stay in my pajamas longer and we don’t leave the house as early. We cook big breakfasts in the mornings and generally eat dinners earlier in the evening. Life is slower.

I love feeling warmth and comfort. I love clothing that feels warm and cozy, like fleece-lined leggings, knee-high socks, cashmere sweaters, knit scarves, and flannel PJs. I love warm food and I use my crock pot almost daily in colder months. I cook more in the winter and I love spices like ginger, garlic, and cinnamon that warm me to my core. Our fireplace is one of my happiest places on earth (my husband Roy and I married ourselves in front of our fireplace). I get more massages, take more baths, enjoy longer showers, and I drink more tea in the winter months.

I love self-care. Winter months allow for more time for self-care rituals. Whether that’s taking lavender baths, doing regular castor oil packs, or applying a body scrub or a face mask, I give myself the time for (and my skin the luxury of) these rituals more regularly. In colder months I make the time to boil roots and herbs for teas (as opposed to steeping tea bags) and I may finish up a workout by sitting in the steam room or sauna.

I love time at home. Being in my home feels restorative and good for my soul. In colder months, I work from home more. I do more writing, more crafts, and more home organizing. With the kids, we play board games, roast marshmallows, and watch more movies. When I’m alone in my home, I hear a different kind of quiet in the winter months than I do at any other time of year.

I love connection. The cold gives us the opportunity to snuggle together by the fireplace and it offers us those extra minutes in bed in the morning, while we wait to rise until the house gets slightly warmer. I enjoy long tea dates with friends, and cooking dinner with and for others.

So while I personally can’t find the pleasure in scraping ice off my car or driving home from work in the dark, I can put my focus on the things that I enjoy that come along with this season. It’s now okay that I don’t enjoy snowshoeing and I don’t feel excited when I wake up to freshly fallen snow.

With hygge, I can simply feel content drinking my hot cocoa while sitting in a warm jacuzzi. Right after a hot stone massage, of course!


Author: Debbie Steinbock

Image: Unsplash

Editor: Emily Bartran

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