Hygge and Seasonal Mental Health (in North American North East)

Updated: Jan 17

I am writing this during that big snow storm my area received a few weeks prior to posting this. It’s early AM, it’s dark, windy, and snowy. I love this weather. I think it’s exciting; but I know not everybody feels this way. I have a YouTube video on my television of a realistically animated cabin with a crackling fireplace and pictured outside the window in this virtual world is a snow fall. It’s pretty absurd, but it’s working for me.

A couple years ago, it seemed like Americans discovered the word hygge. It’s Danish and we may not be able to define it in English. Hygge gets studied because despite the dark, cold winters in Scandinavian countries, measures of subjective well-being are consistently higher than much of the world’s population. Hygge is not quite cozy, but it’s warm with a sense of togetherness; closeness. There is a component of hygge that involves feeling safe as well as being in the present moment sincerely but informally. I'm not sure I know how to write a sentence with the word hygge and use it properly, but that’s what happens with these untranslatable concepts.

When I remember the articles I read about hygge a couple years ago, they were all “five ways to practice hygge!” Have a candle! Lots of blankets! A warm mug of something! A fire! Eat treats! Gather people around! Here are things you can buy to help you with that! Well, we’re going through a hard time and not only may money be scarce, but so is one of the important components of the concept— community and closeness.

I wonder, how do we experience closeness? Let’s imagine and use our senses.

Ok, ok, well-- I think one way to experience closeness may be warm lighting. Lighting can involve both seeing and smelling if you’re lucky enough to have a real candle.

If a room is filled with smells (hopefully pleasant), I think it creates a closeness. The air is heavy with scent.

I mentioned I’m playing that video of a crackling fire (and, in reality, as the snowstorm ends outside, it’s really picking up on the video which makes me feel cozier). The video includes some outside noises and bringing the outside inside-- items from the natural world-- is part of hygge (Sights and sounds!)

To me, “close” air has significant density, almost like humidity. You could manifest this from scents or even light. A softness seems important, but what is soft to you?

I’ll let you figure out taste.

Another concept related to hygge (that seems to have political connotations, but I won’t get into them) is egalitarianism. If you’re in a room with your family, nobody is the star of the show. What if you’re in a room with yourself? This is almost meditative. Melting into your environment. Becoming a part of the dense, warm air (warmth used as a concept, not necessarily a temperature). We know that grounding ourselves in our senses is a calming skill and those are increasingly useful.

I bring this up now as we move into a version of winter that is new for us. Although the COVID vaccine is out, cases continue to rise. This may be the season that you know more people who are contracting the virus. If this first storm is any indication, it may be a long, cold winter. The more we can incorporate this kind of mindful living (or, may I venture to say, beneficial ways of living that we learn from other cultures) into our own, the more chance we have of coping. Another avenue for coping? Reach out.

Linnet, J. (2011). Money Can't Buy Me Hygge, Social Analysis, 55(2), 21-44. Retrieved Dec 17, 2020, from https://www.berghahnjournals.com/view/journals/social-analysis/55/2/sa550202.xml

Recent Posts

See All

How to deal... with Valentine's Day

It’s about to be Valentine’s Day 2021. I don’t hear as much about Valentine’s Day anymore. Is that just me? I remember people having a pretty hard time with it, but maybe that’s because I was younger.

5 Ways to Deal with... the Holidays 2020

When I think about ways to cope with this time of year, I think, well, what would make me feel ok? And I hate to say it, the usual platitudes must be true. Or true for most people. Nothing is true for