As someone who has struggled with Seasonal Affective Disorder for a number of years, I am always on the hunt for ways to brighten my winter months. Today, I finally found a (partial) solution in a pretty unexpected country: Denmark, known for their winter practice of hygge. Hygge roughly translates to "coziness," but the term is way more complex than that: Pronounced HyOO-guh (I know, I thought it was "HI-gee" too), it's the Danish custom of creating a warm, enjoyable atmosphere and enjoying it with friends and family. I can get behind that. We can all get behind that, right?
According to a number of studies, Danes are the happiest people in the world — people who also happen to live in a country that experiences up to 17 consecutive hours of darkness during the winter. That's bleak, but the Danish outlook on life is not. They brighten up their winters both literally, with candles and fireplaces galore, and figuratively, by practicing self-care and acknowledging that coziness is good for the soul. It's similar to the Norwegian concept of koselig, which just further supports my theory that Scandinavian and Nordic countries really have it all figured out.
While not all of us can hop on a place to Denmark to experience true hygge culture, we can definitely recreate its basic tenets in our own humble abodes. These 10 tips will make your life hygge AF:
1. Build a Pillow Fort
I'm not sure what it is about building a pillow fort that makes me feel so safe and satisfied, but it definitely does the trick when I'm working through feelings of anxiety or depression. Everyone has their own go-to fort game plan, but in case you've forgotten, here's a quick 'n' dirty guide to building a kick-ass pillow fort. Maybe consider building it around a TV or Netflix-enabled computer or record player. Just a suggestion.
2. Host a Potluck
"Enjoying good things with good people" — that is literally what a potluck is. Just because the Friendsgiving season is technically over does not mean you've missed your window for potluck-ing. You can send out a Google doc so everyone knows what each other is bringing (a great way to avoid 20 bottles of wine and one bagged salad), or even make it a themed event. All pies, for example. Maybe you could eat inside your pillow fort. And tell stories. I don't know. Maybe this is my friend-fantasy. Who's to say?
3. DIY an Apartment-Safe "Fireplace"
I do not have a fireplace. I do not want a fireplace, because I do not want to be responsible for one. However, I like the concept, and I feel that fireplaces are central to the hygge sensibility. What I do have is this campfire-scented candle and this eight-hour video of a crackling fire. I am killing the hygge game.
4. Decorate for the Holidays
Regardless of what you celebrate during the winter months, tinsel-ing the heck out of your living space is guaranteed to boost your spirits. Or if not tinsel, then something else... festive. The only downside to decorating for the holidays is that I never have, like, money. But just because I can't afford a 10-foot Christmas tree doesn't mean I can't fill my home with some serious hygge cheer, thanks to these cute, on-the-cheap decorating ideas.
5. Whip Up Some Mulled Wine
I live on the edge of a Chicago neighborhood called Andersonville, which is traditionally a Swedish enclave. Glogg, which is essentially mulled wine, is big here. Really big. Restaurants get weirdly competitive about a drink that sounds, um, not great when said with really thick Midwestern accents. Here is a really easy slow cooker recipe for mulled wine, which also happens to make your home smell amazing. Tastes good, smells good, gets you tipsy — what more could you possibly want?
6. Organize a Sweater-Swap
Weird-looking knitwear is my go-to winter aesthetic (an extension of my general Art Mom lifestyle), and I am always coveting all those odd sweaters my friends find at thrift stores or their parents' basement. Can you think of anything cozier than trying on a bunch of sweaters with your friends? No, you cannot. Paired with some mulled wine? No, definitely not. Nothing has ever been more cozy. Donate the leftover sweaters to a local homeless shelter or Goodwill, and extend those hygge vibes to people who need them the most.
7. Start a New Book Series
Or re-read an old one (I now associate Harry Potter with the holiday season). Sitting on your couch and mindlessly watching TV for hours doesn't get your brain working nearly as well as a book marathon does. And reading comes with a lot less inherent self-loathing, you know? If you're a little out of practice literature-wise, here are some books to get you back into reading.
8. Go Ice Skating
While a lot of hygge activities happen at home, that doesn't mean you need to be a house-bound hermit. Ice skating is a super festive activity, and one that you can partake in regardless of whether you live in Florida or Michigan. Go with a group of pals, or make it a romantic date. Perhaps the best part? Seemingly every ice skating rink sells hot chocolate and concession-stand-quality nachos, two treats that taste even better after a chilly "workout." This website will help you find rinks near your sweet humble abode.
9. Binge On That TV Series You've Always Wanted to Watch
With a friend! Or several friends! During my first winter at college, after finishing homework and the gym and rehearsals or whatever else we had going on, a pal of mine and I would cuddle up in her bed, snack on one million Sourpatch Kids, and make our way through the life and times of Veronica Mars, limiting ourselves to one episode a night — maybe two if we were really into it. It was a definite bright spot that winter.
10. Rent a Dog for Cuddling Purposes
Yes, in this very high-tech world we live in, it is now possible to rent a dog, thanks to Bark 'n' Borrow. This app will connect you with dog owners in your area who are willing to let you take their pets for a li'l walk or a li'l playdate. For free. I know. The health benefits of owning a pup are well-documented at this point (live longer, lessen depressive tendencies, lead a more active lifestyle), but if you, like me, can barely keep a cactus alive, then this temporary pet situation is an ideal compromise.