Children growing up in Minnesota normally define winter in terms of activities such as sledding, skating, skiing, and all the other beloved winter sports. They would also define it as cold! As fate would have it, my great-grandparents from Finland settled here in Minnesota next door to where I grew up. I was a Minnesota kid. And yes, I had a grandmother who believed in wearing bread bags inside winter boots to keep your feet dry. Although I take great pride in my Finnish heritage, I have struggled for years to be thankful for my Minnesota roots, mostly because of the dreadful winters.
I remember my least favorite thing as a kid in the winter was bundling up. I can recall those cold hands and wet mittens, the cold feet, frostbite, and tromping through dirty snow and slush in the spring. As the years went by, winter begin to lose its sparkle and magic, and I looked as a young adult to find the quickest ticket out of town to somewhere that offered something other than the arctic tundra Minnesota offered me. I left at the age of 19. For a decade after, I experienced places that were not quite so cold with winters that always stayed brown or green. Despite missing white Christmases, I never really wanted to return to the cold, dark, winters of Minnesota. Return I did.
During those first few years I was back, winter was a huge inconvenience for me. It was something to endure, complain about and to survive. I lived for the three short delightful summer months each year. One snowy day I stood in my kitchen, and with determination decided if I was going to live here in Minnesota, I would have to find a way to love it. And so began the quest to embrace old man winter. I don’t exactly recall the exact process or length of time it took, but ten years later I love it. Not only have I learned to embrace winter, but I think it may be my favorite season of all.
I noticed that not only was I mentally healthier, but I became physically healthier. I no longer experience the aches and pains that I once did, because I am more positive minded and active. We all know that there is a mind/body connection. Increased depression in the winter season, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) are very real things for many that live in northern climates. It is definitely a concern. I strongly believe that along with a well balanced diet, sufficient sleep, and vitamins, a change in mindset and becoming more active can help those that struggle with the winter season. It may not be a cure, but it will definitely help. Let’s be honest, winter can be hard.
For years I have struggled to find a name for my experience or quest to change the way I felt about winter. After much research on the Nordic culture, I discovered in an article that there is a name for it – hygge, pronounced “heu-gah.” The concept is difficult to translate into English because it is a feeling that can’t be put into words. Hygge is an art. It is building a sanctuary and community of inviting closeness, and focusing on what makes one feel open hearted and alive. It is to create well-being for oneself, connection with others and displaying warmth. It is a feeling of being thankful for the moment and for each other. The word that we have that describes it the best is “coziness,” but even that doesn’t come close. Hygge began to become a part of my life when I intentionally chose to embrace winter years ago. I feel so blessed to have found this new way to live. We all have heard and read about the studies on gratefulness. This is something similar. Hygee living appears to contribute to a happier and healthier life.
I have often wondered why there seemed to be something different about the spirit and fortitude of the Nordic people as compared to Americans, even compared to those of us with ancestors from those countries. Research has shown that Nordic countries score the highest on the happiness list. According to the United Nations, Denmark is the happiest country in the world, even though they live in an area of the world with low temperatures, short days, and long winters. Hygge, which originated as a Norwegian word for well-being, is an important part of the Danish culture and some believe it is what has contributed to the happiness. Although hygge is not a seasonal thing, it is especially important in the winter season because it protects them from the cold, stress and loneliness. Very few countries, outside of the Nordic countries, embrace this concept. In Denmark, the winter season is celebrated by taking pleasure in simple things such as gathering with friends and family even if it is just to share coffee and cake. They take delight in the beauty of winter, winter activities, and snuggling up near the fire with a good book. They intentionally and actively work at making their environment warm, cozy, fun and pleasing to the eye. In America, we come closest to the concept of hygge around the holiday season. We call it “holiday cheer.” Most of us recognize that there is a different feeling that surrounds the weeks that stretch from Thanksgiving to New Years. It is a time when we willingly embrace the cold temperatures and snow and spending time with family and friends. Once we turn the calendar page to January, we pack away holiday cheer for another year. Winter becomes the dark and dreary season we grudgingly trudge through.
After doing research, I began to wonder if we could possibly learn to adapt to the hygge culture? We tend to be a binge and purge society. For an example, we binge on “holiday cheer” for a month each year. Wouldn’t it be nice to carry that concept year round? Could we possibly grasp the value of it? Would it be possible to intentionally live the hygge life? The holidays are upon us, and we are entering the beginning of the winter season. This year I encourage you to open your mind up to the possibility that life could be different and more magical by learning to embrace the beauty of the cold season and to live out the hygge concept all year.
What are some ways that you can embrace and celebrate winter this year? Perhaps it is by opening your home to others more often, trying out a new winter hobby or activity (it doesn’t have to be outdoors), or filling your home more often with candlelight and the smell of fresh baked bread to go with a pot of soup. There are so many ways you can begin to experience winter, and not just survive. Share your ideas with us!
“Adding a bit of light and warmth to these cold dark days doesn’t hurt. Candles are beautiful and bring a soupcon of solace to our souls.” – Anne Lamott
To take part in the “Hygge Winter Project” use the following hashtags on Instagram: #minnesotahygge or #hyggewinterproject. Encourage others by sharing your hygge experiences this winter.