Embracing Hygge

Winter, oh, Winter, how I hate thee. Let me count the ways: you are dark, you are cloudy, you make my hands and feet (and occasionally butt) persistently and painfully cold, you require me to warm up my car or face a sure and sudden frozen death, your cold air makes me cough, and I must grit my teeth until you are over. 

I didn’t used to hate winter so vehemently. I was never an ardent fan, but my real disdain came upon moving halfway across the country to Minnesota. Not to be overly dramatic (which surely by now you recognize is an inherent character trait), but this is as close to an arctic tundra as I ever want to come. Upon bracing myself for my first snow in Minnesota, I naively asked my new boss what their “snow policy” was. After her laughter subsided enough for her to speak, the short version I received was there is no snow policy. You get yourself in your car and you drive to work whether it is -30 degrees or 70, whether there are 2 feet of snow or nary a flake. You are just generally expected to show up for work and that came as quite a shock.

Back in Virginia, news of an impending 2 inch snowfall travelled fast, store shelves would be stripped bare, and people would plan to hunker down until it melted. No one was expected to drive in snow, schools and courts and hell, even Walmart closed during the most modest of snowstorms. I was not raised to be hearty, to brave the elements, to *gasp* shovel a sidewalk or to be forced to wear snow boots from October through May. I am fully aware this makes me sound like a spoiled princess, but having to tote a regular pair of shoes to change into after trudging through the graying snow just feels like a crime. Why, Minnesota? Why?

For my first couple of years, I chose to willfully ignore that the parameters around my winter norm had drastically changed. I wore my light cardigans, my cute suede booties, and my lack of proper winter attire like an idiotic badge of honor. “I am from Virginia and I’m not planning on staying long”, my fancy trench coat defensively screamed.

Marching towards 6 years here has meant that burying my head in the sand, ehem, snow is no longer a healthy or advisable option. I’ve now since purchased the standard issue puffer coat and a hideous pair of rubberized fluffy lined boots. And, while I will never be a true hearty Midwesterner, I don’t bat an eye at the persistent layer of snow that graces our yard for at least three months (when we are lucky it isn’t 5) and I say crazy things like how warm it is when it is a mere 35 degrees.

But, as far as I’ve come in being able to tolerate winters in Minnesota, I have come nowhere near embracing them. When I first heard about the Danish concept of Hygge, I was intrigued. When you look up Hygge, you will see many definitions, because there really is no direct translation. But, as I’ve done more research, I’ve started to see the meaning of Hygge as embracing wellbeing (particularly during the winter months) by infusing life with a sense of coziness and community. The concept sounded beautiful, but I honestly didn’t get it. How on earth could Danish people not only embrace months of winter and darkness, but thrive and on top of it, be ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world? No, seriously. How?

Once I had heard the word (and learned to at least occasionally pronounce it correctly), I started to see it pop up in all kinds of places.  One day when I was scrolling Instagram, I came across this photo by @bymeganjane.

In a huge act of kindness and generosity (which is pretty darn Hygge), Meg sent me her own copy all the way from Australia since it wasn’t available yet in the states. (It is now, if you want your own copy.) I decided to see if this little book of Hygge-y goodness could really change how I look at winter, my most dreaded of all seasons.

Between reading the book and many, many articles online (as Hygge has suddenly become a hot topic), I saw several overarching themes. While most centered around what almost felt superficial like creating a cozier home with candles and soft blankets or making warm, comforting foods, the takeaways I found most important were these:

First, being Hygge is about changing your mindset and I think this can apply to every single aspect of our lives, not just our view of winter. If we think something is going to be miserable, it is going to meet our expectations every. single. time. I remember once working with someone who so clearly hated her job. She would come in every day and when asked how she was doing, she would sarcastically say she was “living the dream.” Her negativity was palpable and also stuck to those around her like pooh on a shoe. (No, I can’t believe I used that analogy either.)

If we approach life with a heart of gratitude and positivity, it is amazing to see how quickly our perception shifts. (That may sound all woo, but I will drink the woo Kool-Aid if it means feeling better every day.) Thinking of winter not as something miserable that must be survived, but as something that gives the opportunity to slow down, to retreat a little, and to restore gives the season new life.

Last year, when I was having to dig out my SAD light box and could barely scrape myself out of bed each day, I dreaded every moment. But, changing the lens through which I view winter has made me feel more energy & excitement and so far there has been nary a light box needed to rouse me from my slumber (so I count that as a win). I’ve found myself noticing the beauty of the snow, pausing to inhale deeply in the sharp, cold air, and just generally been looking at the season with a sense of wonder, not depression. Granted we are only a few months into the frigid temps and by Minnesota standards, we still have a several more months to get through, but so far I see a big difference from a fairly simple change.

The second overarching theme I saw was intentionally caring for yourself and others until it is no longer intentional but a way of life. I don’t know about you, but I often feel like I need an excuse to take care of myself, as if somehow treating myself with kindness needs to be a special occasion. I don’t know why we set ourselves aside so often. I think that is why I found this concept to be so attractive and why I wanted to examine areas where I could give myself a little more permission.

This may sound utterly ridiculous (and I am prepared to accept the ridicule), but I am the person who has purchased a nice candle only to never light it because it felt frivolous. Why would I waste a $15 candle on just any regular old day? But, I realized that sense of preciousness about everything from a candle to even setting aside time for myself wasn’t a healthy view. That “special” day to light the candle never came, I never carved out the 5 minutes for the face mask, I rushed through my meals while working, and on and on. Thinking about life from a Hygge perspective taught me to look at every moment as special and deserving and treating myself as special and deserving, too. While I am still working on making this a way of life and not an intentional habit, the little things I have been doing to make my heart, body and mind happy feel really damn good.

Beyond caring for myself, my favorite aspect of Hygge is looking for moments to care for others, to create a greater sense of intimacy and community. One small change I’ve made that I absolutely love is using the DIW Instagram account to try to be more inspirational and supportive of others. Finding quotes and writing captions from the heart has felt so much more nourishing and exciting and hearing sweet messages about how that post was just what someone needed that day is exactly my mission.

As an introvert, I can sometimes retreat a little too far within myself and winter is definitely a time where it is easy to cut yourself off from the outside world. In years past, I’ve let relationships slide while I do nothing but work and essentially survive on Netflix binges. I’ve made it my goal to set up coffee dates, girl’s nights, and family style dinners each week to nourish those relationships. It is all too easy to get caught up in the hustle and forget that life is made up of these moments, and like everyone and their brother who is trying to live more intentionally, I’m not willing to miss out on them anymore.

While winter is still not close to being over, I don’t walk around looking like the weary face emoji anymore. Granted I’m not running out to purchase snowshoes and you will not catch me ice fishing, but waking up each day to another layer of snow doesn’t feel burdensome. While the new year can leave us feeling like we have to make enormous changes to every aspect of our lives,  Hygge does not have to be another thing to add to your to do list. Embracing Hygge is like an instant and easy recipe for happiness and who doesn’t need a little more of that?


Grace Ray is a former child forensic interview specialist, reformed home decor blogger, writer and editor (who has a difficult time being serious whenever there is a camera around). She is proud to be the co/founder of Do It Well, Co.