Ahh, winter in the Puget Sound region — legendary for the gray chill, the dampness, long nights (without snow to brighten them), and frequent windstorms threatening to knock out power. There are bright, beautiful days as well, but we talk a lot more about on how to survive the darkness here. To keep up our spirits, studies show the value of getting outdoors despite the cold weather, to hike or prune or do other gardening. That’s fine during our beloved “sun breaks” but not always feasible when it’s dumping rain or wet snow.
Here's another strategy: fluff up the indoor experience. Make it more homey. Cozy. That warm, welcoming atmosphere of quiet evenings by the fireplace with candles, big sweaters, warm socks, a mug of something hot, and good friends, or at least a good book. It's one way we get through winter short of resorting to a beach in Mexico or Hawaii.
Many northerly cultures have turned this form of nesting into an art. Our Norwegian friends swear by their Koselig; Germans speak of Gamütlichkeit. Citizens of Denmark call it hygge (pronounced "HOO-ga"). It's a term which is hard to translate exactly into English, but virtually any Dane (or northern European) knows hygge or its equivalent. It's what gets them through their chilly, gray winter months.
Browsing through Swansons’ gift shop recently, I picked up The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking. He is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute (yes, it’s a real organization) in Copenhagen. Danes are consistently ranked among the happiest people on earth, according to numerous surveys. How can that be, with their high tax rate and long, dreary winters? The Institute studies this question and one factor that stands out is the Danes’ propensity to frequently gather with friends in a comfortable, welcoming setting, any time of year.
Wiking says hygge is about “atmosphere and experience, rather than about things.” It’s about social intimacy, a sense of safety, the absence of annoyance, and enjoying simple pleasures. It's mainly about relationships with people. But there are "things" which help create and enhance that atmosphere. The book winsomely presents the principles and details to achieve it.
What, willingly spending an evening at home without digital input (with the possible exception of music or a movie)? It’s a bit of a lost art, akin to writing a letter by hand or having a face-to-face conversation on the bus. Some of us might stress out with such a challenge. But, as Wiking reminds us, this is how the happiest people on earth like to spend their time.
The book includes survey results on what makes people happy, or not. It shares tips on creating a comfortable setting for good conversation or just quiet companionship, with lists of all the cozy accoutrements mentioned above. There are even recipes for skibberlabskovs, snobrød, gløgg, and other satisfying (though not necessarily healthy) treats.
It's an easy read, tastefully designed like a typical Danish home. Wiking writes in a relaxed, conversational manner. At a glance, the book can appear as an infomercial for the Danish lifestyle, but it is laced with self-effacing asides. He describes traditional Danish cuisine as “50 Shades of Meat and Potatoes” (despite the fabled pastries of course). As to Danes' fashion sense (featuring mostly black clothing) Wiking advises, "In the summertime, you are allowed to go for a wider range of colors, even something crazily flamboyant like gray."
Wiking also explains, the more challenging or uncomfortable the weather outside, the greater the hygge factor when you come in. That also goes for the often-manic anxiety of preparing for Holiday gatherings. So — the theory goes — the higher that stress, the more you can exhale and savor the hygge once the gathering begins.
As luck would have it, Swansons' gift shop can help outfit you for the upcoming hygge season!
Wiking mentions that hygge has gotten a lot of media attention lately. Maybe with all our information overload and the current confrontational nature of our society, our nesting instinct is strong. Maybe we all need hygge more than ever.
So cozy up your place with some candles and goodies, and invite someone over. But if a healthy dose of hygge and Christmas cheer isn't enough to get you through another Northwest winter, take heart — the Winter Solstice is coming, after which the days start getting longer!