Self Care

Winter Hygge

December 20, 2022

Unpopular Opinion… Winter is my favorite season.

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Hygge is a Danish concept of coziness, comfort and community. I’ve been practicing Hygge at home for several years. It is difficult to translate into American culture because there isn’t just one way to define it.

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” Merriam- Webster says “a cozy quality that makes a person feel content and comfortable.”

Dark winter mornings are inspiring my sense of Hygge lately. The Chicago sunrise isn’t until 7:14 am these days and with the winter solstice tomorrow (21 December 2022) the snuggly, cozy and home together vibes are in high swing. 

I have focused on creating hygge moments for myself as the temperatures dropped. More reading under blankets. More warm drinks. And for our family we’ve had more candle lit dinners including a picnic under the Christmas tree with only the tree lights on.

There is a tendency for me to get wound up in the mornings. It’s a shot gun start. Everyone has to get dressed, wash up, brush teeth, pack bags, eat breakfast and now that it’s cold there’s winter gear to pile on before getting out the door.

The whole morning scene can be overwhelming.

I’m fine with the occasional stressful event. But I am not ok with something that happens five out of seven days a week being stressful. With several years of school runs ahead of us I have been looking for ways to stress-less in the mornings.

Since it is primarily a race against the clock the first thing to do is to wake up earlier. Historically I have not been a morning person. In the past year I have dabbled with becoming one and while I don’t love falling asleep while sitting up at 8 pm, I have to admit it is nice to wake up early.

The house is quiet. On winter days I have the privilege of seeing the house slowly wake up in the pre-dawn light. I turn on as few lights as possible to ease into the swing of things. I make myself a hot lemon water, plan my day and do some reading. I’ll add in some stretching or light exercise some mornings.

I’ll then prep breakfast for the kids, usually as my oldest makes his way downstairs.

Then I help set out the kid’s backpacks and usually by then the bathroom is free (we only have the one) so I’ll head upstairs to wash up and get dressed. Dan and I pass on the stairs and he helps finish the kids breakfasts and gets water bottles and coats laid out. Time permitting he’ll unload the dishwasher.

Most often I picture hygge as curling up with a blanket, book and coffee as snow flurries fall outside. What I am working on now is experiencing hygge in most moments. Hygge isn’t just calm and quiet. It is connection and community too.

It is discussions over meals at the table. It is dance parties. It is spending a few extra minutes chatting with neighbors. It is a seven second hug.

Hug and Hygge go hand in hand. I’ve recently learned about the actual health benefits of hugs.

One study found that a 10-second hug can help the body ease depression, while a 20-second hug tempers the stress of conflict, relieves blood pressure, and ensures a healthy heart. How does a hug do this you ask. Hugging releases feel-good hormones such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin which all work together to give us feelings of happiness, relaxation and boost heart health.

Hugging also strengthens relationships because we actually exchange electrons with the person. There is an actual energy transfer and sharing that happens. People who are hugged feel more supported by their loved ones which also strengthens relationships.

A friend recently started a Seven Second Hug Habit with his wife before leaving for work. We haven’t worked it into our morning routine yet but I can’t argue with the benefits!

The next few weeks will be full of holiday celebrations with family and friends. Between Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years we’ll have plenty of opportunity to try the seven second hug. We’ll also enjoy the general merriment of being together with loved ones.

There will be comfort food. Drinks. Storytelling. Laughter. Games. Gifts. There will be a conviviality to the gatherings that embodies the spirit of hygge. (Conviviality might be one of my new favorite words.)

Not every day or moment needs to be hygge certified. In fact, it would become stressful to try and make every moment cozy. But the feeling of contentment is something you can infuse into daily life. Here are three ways I find contentment and create hygge in daily life.

Single Tasking

I know. It is so difficult to do but when I focus on one thing at a time I am so much more cheerful! And productive. Instead of having four things half started and not finished I have one thing finished and can move clearly onto the next.

This also means I put my phone down. It is impossible to be present when on your phone.

Dan gave me a recipe box for Bassett Christmas (the Christmas celebration we have with his parents and sister’s family the weekend before the 25th). My winter break project is to copy all the recipes that I have screen shot onto cards. Because following a recipe on your phone is nothing but frustrating. And it’s too easy to see texts, emails and social media when you’re supposed to be checking what ingredient gets added next.

Low Light

Low lighting and candles are central to Hygge. Task lighting with lamps. Using unscented candles at dinner. Even without a clear sky the winter daytime light is bright enough to complete your tasks.

Because the sun has set before dinner prep begins I usually cook dinner just by the overhead light of the stove. There’s a florescent light over the sink that will be the first thing to go when we renovate but it does the job well enough for now.

I have been considering adding lamps to our kitchen counters since we don’t have under cabinet lighting. I first got this idea from Vivi Et Margot who uses battery powered lamps next to her stove. I have added several different lamps to several different carts over the years. I’ve also read a lot of tutorials on how to use battery powered puck lights in lamps so you don’t have to plug them in.

Create Warmth

Blankets, warm drinks, wooly socks, shearling slippers, sweaters, baked goods. The gas fireplace BTUs are a little too high for our small front room so we don’t turn it on often (another thing to fix during the renovation) but on Christmas morning when our stocking feet pad down the stairs we’ll fire it up (pun intended) and warm up with hot chocolate and coffee and warmed up muffins or cinnamon rolls or cake.

Maybe throughout the rest of winter I’ll make the fire a part of my early morning routine. Actually just thinking about my toes toasting up while I write out my daily tasks is making me smile so yes, I’ll definitely be doing that.

I did a whole post back in October about how I was creating the cozy. I share more specific examples for warmth, low light and single tasking plus a few more! Read the post here.

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