What Is "Còsagach?" This Scottish Take On "Hygge" Might Help You Fight SAD
Hygge… koselig… lagom…it seems like each year when the weather gets colder, we’ve got a new word to learn. This year, that word is còsagach. What is còsagach, exactly? It’s pretty much the Scottish equivalent of the ever-popular hygge, and according to VisitScotland, it’s poised for takeover in 2018.
In 2015, both the Norwegian concept of koselig and the Danish one of hygge hit the English-speaking internet (although it's worth noting that both terms are, of course, much older than that). A piece at Fast Company at the beginning of November that year detailed research conducted by Kari Leibowitz, then a PhD student at Stanford University, which studied the overall mental health of residents of Tromsø, Norway — and what Leibowitz found was that the residents’ unexpectedly low rates of seasonal depression had something to do with koselig, a term which translates roughly to “a sense of coziness” with an element of community thrown in. Hygge, meanwhile, had previously popped up a few places — NPR covered it in 2012, for example — but really began to pick up steam during the 2015-16 winter season; indeed, by the following winter, it had become entrenched enough in popular culture to have earned a spot on the shortlist for the Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 word of the year.
And now, we’ve got còsagach. Like many words, “còsagach” has a few different definitions — one of which is, hilariously, “full of holes and crevices,” according to one online Scottish Gaelic dictionary. To be fair, I can see how one would get from there to “snug, warm, cozy, and/or sheltered,” which is what we mean when we use “còsagach” in the hygge-like sense — anyone who’s ever spent time in a blanket fort understands the connection between crevices and coziness — but I still think it’s funny. And for what it’s worth, there’s even a third definition of the word: “Spongy.” Isn’t language great?
VisitScotland’s 2018 Insights report points to 2016 as a boom year for hygge, then draws the line between our understanding of the word — “a type of coziness and comfort that engages a feeling of contentment or well-being” — and what tourists have reported feeling when they visited Scotland. “In 2015, over 4 million domestic tourists mentioned relaxing as an activity that they undertook when in Scotland,” the report reads. “With tranquil seascapes, vast open spaces and many warm and welcoming pubs, Scotland is a perfect place for your well-being, so perfect in fact thata word of Scottish origin has been dedicated to that feeling of being snug, sheltered, or cozy: Còsagach.”
The whole point of còsagach within the context of VisitScotland’s Insights report is to draw visitors to the country. (Indeed, it recommends that businesses capitalize on the idea by promoting themselves as the “perfect place to relax and unwind.)” However, I think there’s something to be said for applying the concept in other ways, too. VisitScotland is right when they say that “In the winter when the storms rage and the waves crash against the rocks, there is nothing more satisfying than being curled up in front of the fire, book and hot toddy in hand, listening to the weather outside,” or that nothing will make you feel cozier than spending the day outside in the snow before “going to a cozy pub and relaxing in a friendly setting” with friends or loved ones — but you don't need to be in Scotland in order to do either of those things and reap the benefits that follow.
Indeed, these kinds of activities might help you stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Full-on SAD affects about five percent of Americans during the winter each year, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians; and even if you don’t get Seasonal Affective Disorder itself, about 20 percent of Americans still deal with some milder form of seasonal depression. Between the lack of sunlight and the cold weather, we tend to get a little blue during the winter months.
But Leibowitz’ research supports the idea that concepts like còsagach, hygge, and koselig might be worth deploying as techniques to fight SAD and other forms of the winter blues. Their effectiveness might have something to do with the fact that they’re really about reframing winter: Instead of thinking of the season as months and months of dreary coldness, they encourage us to think about it as an adventure —either one you have outside, enjoying all the skiing and other outdoor activities you can only do in the winter, or inside, bundling up literally and metaphorically with all the activities that make you feel as warm and fuzzy as possible. As Kari Leibowitz observed about the Norwegian population she studied, “People view winter as something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured” — and, as it turns out, that kind of mindset can make a pretty marked difference for our mental health.
So: How exactly does one live the còsagach life? Pretty much however you want. Into skiing? Do it. Building snow people or having snowball fights? Do that, too. Would you rather stay inside? Go ahead. Got a favorite sweater? Put it on, and cozy up under your favorite blanket while you’re at it. Grab some friends and build a pillow fort. Bake cookies and share them with your favorite people. Make some hot tea, or cocoa, or cider, or mulled wine, or whatever your warm drink of choice is. Let yourself be silly and goofy, and conveniently forget to act your age. Try any of these other ideas, and a whole lot more.
Oh, and hey, while we’re at it: It’s OK to feel sad (or SAD, as the case may be), too. Let yourself feel that. When you feel like you want to do something to stop feeling like that, though, know that you’ve got options. You got this. We’ve got this. Winter? We’re ready for you.