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By now, we’re in the throes of the winter season. For most (certainly not all), winter is the most challenging season: it’s difficult to be outside; the sun sets before we leave the office; social lives seem to settle. For most of us, winter feels like an impassible struggle, or an obstacle to be surmounted. The Danes are here to tell us that we’re wrong: winter, and the slowness that accompanies it, should be embraced--not muscled through.

Why does winter “feel” sad?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has flooded the collective consciousness, especially in the conversations about mental health. Serotonin is associated with overall mood, energy level, eating (hunger levels, eating behaviors, fat distribution), and reproductive behaviors. It’s critical to feelings of satisfaction, and low levels of serotonin have been associated with depression and other mental illnesses. A study conducted over the span of four years sought to image the brains of healthy participants in the different seasons. The researchers found that in the fall and winter months, participants on average had fewer available serotonin receptors--meaning that serotonin levels themselves remained relatively stable, but the places for serotonin to bind and facilitate “good moods” and “healthy sex drives” was significantly lower.

(If you’re interested in a more comprehensive explanation of winter and serotonin, here’s an article we think you’ll appreciate.)

So there’s been established scientific research on why you might be feeling down during the winter--it’s not just you! And, add on the societal implications of the winter months: Q1 beginning in January, the beginning of spring semester, the come-down of the holiday season, the slow doing of our social interactions; it’s no wonder we’re all feeling a bit under-the-weather.

The question arises, then: should we try to combat these feelings? Do we try to artificially stimulate serotonin or indulge in temporary “happiness fixes,” just to survive the winter months? Danish culture purports “Hygge”--pronounced ‘hoo-guh’--to incorporate into daily winter life.

What is hygge?

Although it has recently gone viral on social media, the sentiment around hygge has existed well before its debut on TikTok. There’s not an exact translation into English for hygge, but it’s similar to coziness, or intentional comfortability. There’s not an exact way to manufacture hygge, as each person’s definition of “coziness” is different: some prefer houseplants and fairy lights; other people prefer heaps of fuzzy blankets and hot cocoa. Importantly, hygge is centered in the home; it’s not about attending an event or necessarily being productive. It’s a feeling of safety, warmth, intentionality, and presence. It’s a way to embrace the chill of winter: enjoying the hygge-- the coziness--of place while the wind and snow rages outside.

Some tips for embracing hygge:

  1. Be intentional with your time. Don’t try to finish a work project or get ahead on schoolwork. Instead, pick up that book you’ve been trying to get yourself to read. Crochet. Play chess with your partner. This time should be spent on something you enjoy--something slow, something radically “unproductive.”
  2. Turn off your technology. Yes, this includes Netflix and Pinterest. We know that scrolling is one of our most effective escapisms, but we challenge you to live in and relish the hygge moment. If you’re tempted to pick up your phone, use it to call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Talk to your parents or that friend that recently started graduate school.
  3. Think about your space. Does having a particular light on make you feel like you’re in a hospital’s operating room? The office? Turn it off! Is that chair particularly uncomfortable? Does that table facilitate work and relaxation? Evaluating the utility of your space(s) for both work and play is critical for fostering a hygge-friendly environment.
  4. Don’t be afraid to indulge yourself. Eat those cookies you’ve been eyeing up in your closet, or purchase a muffin on your walk home from the office. Don’t try to restrict yourself--this is a cultural norm in Denmark that is imagined to contribute to hygge culture.

Here’s some hygge inspo:

Take notice of the soft lighting, ample space to cozy up and read, window view, and lack of technological distractions.

This is our last (and favorite!) example of a hygge atmosphere: it doesn’t require an entire overhaul of your interior design. Settle in with a good book, a fresh cup of coffee, and a fuzzy blanket! Chances are, you already have everything you need to deal with your winter blues. Settle in and appreciate the changing of life’s pace.

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