Living “Danishly” Through The Dark Winter


I am not a fan of this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. The days leading up to and immediately following the winter solstice often send me into a downward spiral and drive me to seek any and all possible ways to maintain equilibrium. The gloom of fewer daylight hours is accentuated by the even greater than normal lack of sunlight that my region endures due to its proximity to Lake Michigan. Natives of this area have coined the term “perma-cloud” to describe the continuously overcast conditions that persist from November to mid-April. The darkness makes me want to hibernate. I feel sleepy and sluggish and crave comfort. Holiday preparations are a brief distraction. I love the festivity of the season, though I don’t care much for the pressure of holiday shopping. I love the colorful lights, the sparkling decor, the cheerful music, the delicious food, and the warm celebrations with family and friends. After New Years, though, it feels like the weight of a long, dark winter comes crashing down upon me. There have been years when my husband has found me taking down the Christmas tree and packing up holiday decorations on New Years Day with tears streaming down my face in anticipation of the dark days ahead.

This year I am determined to deny the cold dark winter its power to rob me of my wellbeing. This year my strategy can be described with a single word – hygee. I have been reading about the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced hoo-guh). Though there is no direct English translation for the word, Helen Russell, the British journalist who wrote “The Year of Living Danishly,” defines the term as “taking pleasure in the presence of gentle, soothing things.” I’ve also heard it described as a certain “mindfulness” that allows you to recognize and appreciate things in the present moment. Boiled down further, the term encompasses “all things cozy.” In my mind, though, hygge mostly means creating an abundance of daily moments of self-nurturing – moments that will get me through the cold somber tones of winter in Michigan and to the warmer, greener, sunnier ones of springtime. From what I understand, the Danes take their hygge very seriously. It’s practically a part of their national identity. That’s probably why they consistently rank as one of the happiest populations on the planet. Coziness and comfort is a lifestyle for them. From how they decorate their homes to how they dress to the things they eat and drink, it’s all about the hygee. They even have cozy café areas in everything from laundromats to bicycle shops. And riding around on a bicycle is the epitome of hygge.

Okay. So, I probably won’t be doing much bike-riding in the harsh elements of a Michigan winter; though I suspect those fat-tire bicycles I’ve seen folks using to ride in the snow would be considered the height of hygee to a Dane. I will, however, be making time to go out and walk my dog when the snow is falling gently. I’ll have my essential oils diffuser misting lavender and chamomile. I’ll sleep under a cozy comforter and in the soft pink glow of a salt lamp. I’ll make sure there’s a fire in the fireplace while I cuddle up with my dog, sip warm mulled wine, read, and write. When the dreary gray days of winter combines with the weight of the pressures I feel on the daily, I will seek out even the tiniest slice of hygee. And, even if it’s only for a moment, I will live “Danishly.”


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