As the second half of January sets in, winter always seems to lose its luster. Christmas decorations are taken down and the holiday cheer is packed to the attic with them. New toys are already missing pieces or needing replacement batteries. The beauty of December’s pure, glittering white landscape gives way to January’s murky road slush.
Not to mention this year I’m in the last couple of months of pregnancy, which always seem to take about 1000% longer than any other month of the year.
Living in Wisconsin, it’s easy to see why nearly a quarter of Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a depression which strikes in the colder months as less sunlight and changes in circadian rhythm trigger dips in serotonin, melatonin, and Vitamin D. Winter blues, cabin fever, hibernation season. Even if you don’t have full-blown SAD, most of us have experienced some part of the spectrum.
Vitamin D supplements, eating more fruits and veggies, and lightbox therapy have all proven effective ways to treat the physical effects of the season, but for the past couple of winters I’ve also been trying to lean in to the season by taking a cue from the Danes. At around 56 degrees latitude, Denmark experiences nearly as many hours of winter darkness as Juneau, Alaska. Winter temperatures average 28 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet Denmark and its Scandinavian neighbors Sweden, Finland, and Norway are consistently ranked in the top five happiest countries in the world (the United States typically ranks somewhere in the teens). If you ask the Danes, one of the keys to their happiness is their embrace of the winter season which can be summed up in one word: Hygge.
Pronounced “hoo-ga,” hygge is a Danish word roughly translated to well-being, but more expansively used to express an inner sense of warmth, coziness and merriment. It’s a chosen state of mind to cultivate contentment in the winter months. Those who master the concept enjoy roaring fires, candles, hearty meals, and the company of friends and family.
Here are six ways to bring Hygge to your spiritual life this winter.
1. Take a candle-lit bubble bath … with prayer
Nothing takes the chill out of your bones like a hot bath. Soothing bubbles and scented candles will turn your nightly routine into a spa-like experience. Add to that a meditative prayer like the Rosary or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and you’re sure to find yourself re-centered in no time. Prayer is physically, mentally, and spiritually rewarding. Check out the Rosary Foundation to learn about the rosary’s effects on blood pressure, migraines, serotonin, immunity, sleep, and more. (If you’re a relative beginner like me, check out scriptural rosaries on Youtube which give a few verses of scripture before each prayer to keep your mind focused on Jesus.)
2. Curl up by a roaring fire with a good book … better yet, make it the Good Book
Another hyggeligt (the adjective form of hygge) way to pass a quiet winter night at home is to grab a warm knit blanket and plop yourself into an inviting chair near a fireplace. Feel the warmth radiate as you delve into a book illuminated by the fire-lit glow. Make that the book the Bible, and that warmth and illumination will permeate your soul.
3. Invite friends over for a weeknight dinner party
The best way to beat cabin fever is to socialize. Always keep a few friends who don’t expect gourmet meals or a spotless home, but can just drop by on a weeknight to break up the monotony. A big pot of soup, a hearty casserole, craft beer, and dessert … this is no time to be scrupulous about your New Year’s resolution! Bonus points: invite a family from your parish that you’d like to get to know better, newbies in your community, or your parish priest. (And if you’d rather not host, most restaurants could use the extra business this time of year!)
4. Host a freezer meal party
Are you sensing a theme here? Food and friends seem to be the key components to getting through the winter in Danish style … add in music and mulled wine, and it’s a party! With a baby coming in March, I’m definitely going to make some time this February to stock my freezer. Lasagna, sloppy joes, soup, and enchiladas all freeze well. In the coming months, the freezer meals can also be used to reach out to those in your parish who might be grieving, sick, or injured.
5. Visit the elderly
Winter can be especially hard on the elderly and shut-ins. They experience the same Vitamin-D drop and serotonin drop as the rest of us, compounded by the depressing effects of social isolation. As charitable Christians, we should always strive to comfort the lonely. Why not bring the hygge to them? Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s (or grandfather’s, or great-aunt’s, or other miscellaneous elderly acquaintance’s) house we go! Bring a deck of cards, your Bible, or just plan to talk. Their spirits are also brightened with the presence of children, who can in turn benefit from the company of the older generation.
6. Shovel your neighbor’s driveway or sidewalk
Hygge doesn’t always mean snuggling under a blanket in your warm house. In fact, one of the most important elements of embracing the winter months is to go outside and face the elements. While it’s admittedly hard to absorb much Vitamin D when only your face is exposed to the sunlight, the psychological benefits of being outdoors extend beyond the vitamin. In fact, according to a series of studies published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology, being outside makes people feel more alive. Just 20 minutes in nature can significantly boost vitality levels. Add to that the endorphin surge of exercise and the spiritual boost of loving one’s neighbor, and shoveling a neighbor’s driveway seems more like a favor to the person shoveling than to the neighbor. (Ok, I live out in the country where neighbors plow rather than shovel driveways. Plus I’m seven months pregnant. So I’ll personally be passing on this one … making snow angels might be more in line with my activity level!)
As the years go by, I seem to be learning more and more how to embrace the joys of each season. What are your tips for getting through winter?
Copyright 2018 Kayla Knaack