A hygge winter adventure
My skates glide over the bubbled glass and I can almost imagine fish swimming below. The spring-fed lake where my parents live is surrounded by forest, with the exception of an opening to watch the sunset.
We are bundled head to toe, capturing the last hours of light on the ice. It’s the perfect ending to a stressful week. Jonathan skates like a hockey player zooming around the lake, juking and turning imagining he’s in a race after the puck while I drift through the scenery letting my thoughts take me away, and sometimes a song escapes my lips.
I ask Jonathan if we can stay until the last moments of light are gone and of course he agrees. My nose is frozen by the time we reach the car, but it doesn’t matter. Soon the heater will warm us. I have pumpkin chili waiting for us at home, and I’m ready to snuggle up under a fuzzy blanket with a cup of tea in my hands.
We should be huddled into an anxiety ball after the week we’ve had. My husband, an investment advisor, jumped the hurdles of the stock market. In my instructional coach role, I’m fighting to keep school a safe and happy place for kids. With all the pandemic needs right now I just finished my 3rd week teaching a class of 3rd graders who were doing school online and are now back in the building trying to navigate the new rules of learning during a pandemic. With cold temperatures forcing indoor recess and gray days outlasting the sunny ones, these months have been tailor-made for all sorts of mental health problems, and yet, on this lake, I’m light and free.
A few years ago I was determined to keep us from the depression that so easily grips northerners in the winter months. It was during a lifestyle change committed to wellness when I happened across the idea of Hygge. The term comes from a Norwegian word meaning well being. With such a broad definition, Hygge really means a happy, cozy way of life. Practiced and translated in many different ways, yet still common themes seem to arise. It’s about finding a way to embrace the moment you are in, feeling happy and grateful for what you have, and find ways to foster a connection with nature, with yourself, and with your neighbors.
Scandinavia has been living this way as a practice for generations and it’s high time the rest of us pay attention. The Danes are some of the happiest people in the world, so much so that The Happiness Research Institute was founded in Demark to study this elusive, yet integral piece of our lives – Happiness. My fellow Ohioans who feel the drain of winter, don’t dismiss this idea. Sweden, Norway, and Denmark have some of the worst and longest winters imaginable, resting right below the artic circle, having a similar climate and amount of light as Alaskans, and yet, they are happy.
After putting Hygge into practice not just in winter, but year around I have to say I’m converted for good. The Swedes are onto something and we can learn from them. They have taught me that winter does not have to be an evil drudge but now is a chance to let our bodies embrace the rhythms and cycles of the earth. Each season has something wonderful to give us if we know where to look. See if some of these practices will help you navigate the winter with positive mental health and possibly a joy for all the season’s blessings that nature has to give.
Make a plan to be outside every day
Don’t wait for warm weather or sunny days to get outside. In Ohio, we can go days with grey skies that threaten their gloom right to our very souls. My functional medicine dr. has us taking vitamin D and vitamin B supplements to support us through the dark days. I believe we need the sun, but in its absence, we still need nature. Fresh air revives our brains and supports our immune systems. Even 5 minutes on your porch is powerful. Stretching it to 20 minutes or hopefully longer will reap far more benefits. Jonathan and I look for the kind of activities that don’t just force outside time but make it a joyful winter experience.
Winter hikes are my favorite time in the woods. There are no bugs, and snow on the trees makes me feel like I’m a character in my very own snow globe. Sledding, ice skating, hockey, and skiing make winter feel like a gift. Going to the playground or playing soccer can still happen in the winter. The key is choosing the right clothing.
“There’s No Such Thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” is a common phrase in Scandinavia. Some of our favorite gear comes from Sierra Trading Post. They carry brands you’d find at high-end outdoor retail stores, yet they are part of the Marshalls and TJ Max family so they offer reduced prices. When you bundle up, the weather is no longer a problem. Outside becomes a welcome adventure again.
Lately, I’ve been reading @Rainorshinemomma’s book There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather. A Swedish native, Linda Akeson McGurk writes about raising her children with a love for the outdoors in America and in Sweden. Her words have been speaking right to my nature-loving soul. I’m convinced this book is even more timely given that far too many people are stuck in their homes during this pandemic. We need this advice. To be outside is to be well and free.
A warm bowl of food or a hot cup of tea is far more welcome in the winter. We celebrate that winter makes space for a different seasons of foods that warm us from the inside out. Pumpkin Chili, Sweet Potato Chicken Soup, and Dairy Free Hot Cocoa are some of our favorite Hygge like recipes.
Light is everything. In our recent farmhouse remodel, I put in a ton of recessed lighting and made sure to have windows everywhere. We only use curtains and blinds over windows that truly need privacy or darkness for sleeping. Some friends who live in the city have recommended frosted glass windows. It ensures privacy, but allows the light to pour through.
If you have a fireplace huzzah, this is a hygge dream! We do not, so I find myself burning candles every night and using soft lamplight to make our home feel warm and cozy. While most candles give me a headache and make me nauseous because of the chemical fragrances, I have found a few that burn clean with essential oils. One of our local candle makers, Winding Wicks Creations has adorable scents like Christmas at Grandmas and Berry Cobbler.
Lagom Loft is a new shop in town that has also found inspiration in scandinavian culture and design. Lagom, meaning a simplistic life that appreciates surroundings, this store has Hygee vibes all over it. Cozy pillows, warm blankets with beautiful patterns, and vegan candles scented with essential oils. I am loving the Oak Moss Fig scent by the Broken Top Candle Company. Shopping local has me connected with neighbors while also bringing a warm and cozy feel to my home.
If you are an etsy shopper, you might try Linwood Candle Company. They have these beautiful gold mini candles in a variety of nature scents. Plus I love how the little tins blend into my home decor.
After my first successful garden this summer I am now an addicted plant momma. The little care we put into plants comes back to us in pure abundance. This is the first year I have indoor plants thriving in the winter. I’m realizing what a vast difference it has made in my mood. They produce oxygen, filter the stagnant winter air, and make my home feel like a welcome oasis. Just when I think I’m out of space, I find another place for a new plant to live. Recently a friend encouraged me to plant paperwhite lilies. I found them for less than a dollar a bulb. They are so easy to plant and watching them grow reminds me that we only have a few weeks left until spring is upon us.
While I’ve never done the research, I’m convinced growing plants give us purpose and satisfaction in a job well done. There is just a natural joy that comes from cultivating something, making me wonder why it took me so long to become a plant lady. My next move is to have a macrame plant holder made by a local artist, Buffalo Roam Co. She made a custom piece for my entry way I’m still in love with. If I’m out of counter and shelf space, it’s time to start hanging my plants!
The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking is a fun and easy read that inspires Hygge ideas and choices all year long.
I mentioned There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather by Linda Akeson McGurk and I’m mentioning it again because I loved it that much. We all need this book, especially those who love young children. My fellow readers, don’t be surprised if I end up starting a nature preschool one day.
While I haven’t read it yet, I’m so intrigued by the idea of Lagom. I’ve ordered Lagom: Not Too Little, Not Too Much: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life.
May you move through this winter finding light all around you, discover connection that only nature can give, and steal away cozy moments of comfort to keep you warm.
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