What is 'hygge' and why you need to embrace it for winter wellbeing

Hygge lends itself to small, quiet parts of your home that you can heat up quickly, cover in rugs, throws, and blankets, ...
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Hygge lends itself to small, quiet parts of your home that you can heat up quickly, cover in rugs, throws, and blankets, and create an almost womb-like experience of warmth and comfort.

Winter is not yet here, but it feels like it's well on its way.

The nights are getting chilly. The condensation is on the windows in the morning. The gloves, hats and scarves are making their first appearances. Before long, we'll have our first frost.

Rather than hate on winter, there's a Danish solution to enjoying it. It's called hygge, and it might just be your solution for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

Pronounced "hoo-gah", hygge was a big trend during the 2016 Northern Hemisphere winter, particularly in the UK, where it spurred everything from dedicated Pinterest pages to full-blown books on how to incorporate hygge into your life for winter wellbeing.

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Hygge has no direct English translation, but we can think of it as the denotation of "cosiness".

At it's most basic level, hygge is the enjoyment of putting on big woolly socks, lighting candles, dedicating time to hot drinks and cuddling up by a fire with a book.

However, what hygge is really about is incorporating a positive state of mind when the days are cold, short, and dark and finding warmth and intimacy in your daily life.

Naturally, this is something the Danes do well out of necessity. Hygge has been prevalent for centuries, owing to Denmark's intense winters. Copenhagen, for example, only experiences an average of four hours and 23 minutes of sunlight per day.

Therefore, the Danes have a lot of incentive to combat SAD. But so do the rest of us. Worldwide, 4 to 6 per cent of people may experience clinical depression brought on by winter. An additional 10-20 per cent may experience mild SAD throughout the colder months.

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Hence the popularity of hygge overseas, and why it's bound to be big in New Zealand for winter this year. In case you didn't notice, Kiwis had a rubbish summer weather-wise and it mightn't be warm again now until November or December. All the more reason to jump on the hygge bandwagon and learn how to enjoy life when you'd usually spend months feeling downtrodden.

While hygge is something for everybody to enjoy, it does pay to know that four times as many women are affected by SAD than men. This provides a potential explanation as to why hygge has become a largely female-driven phenomenon on an international scale.

FOUR STEPS TO IMPLEMENTING HYGGE IN YOUR LIFE

1. MAKE YOUR HOME HYGGE

Hygge is essentially anti-minimalism. Rather than wide, cold, open spaces and modernist furniture, it lends itself to small, quiet parts of your home that you can heat up quickly, cover in rugs, throws, and blankets, and create an almost womb-like experience of warmth and comfort. You can move furniture around to create such spaces, or even re-purpose specific rooms for dedicated winter wellbeing.

2. GET MINDFUL

Mindfulness, the meditation-like practice that centres around noticing how you're feeling and not judging it, is an integral part of integrating hygge into your life to beat the winter blues. We often spend autumn and winter eagerly awaiting spring, but a mindfulness-based approach to these seasons means accepting that cold is here, and that's okay.

3. INCREASE HUMAN CONTACT

Winter is often the period of the year where we reduce social interactions. Hygge is about fortifying them. Celebrating being with your friends and family and fostering your intimate relationships is core to wellbeing. The goal is to ensure "togetherness" is an intrinsic part of wintertime, and that we do away with the isolationist mentality that often gives us those lonely blues in the first place.

4. EAT COSY

Hygge eating and drinking requires loving your kitchen. It means getting really excited about roasted root vegetables, making pumpkin soup and steaming hot cups of homemade hot chocolate. Because hygge (and its mindfulness component) are also about slowing down, eating and drinking searing hot foods ensures you to take your time with what you consume. This lets you appreciate food not just because it sustains your energy, but because it makes you feel whole.

Lee Suckling has a master's degree specialising in personal-health reporting. Do you have a health topic you'd like Lee to investigate? Send us an email life.style@fairfaxmedia.co.nz with Dear Lee in the subject line. 

 - Stuff

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