As the winter months roll in, bringing along darker days, colder air and generally lower spirits, I am feeling especially inspired by the Danish concept of hygge and how we can practice it to soften winter’s harshness and even learn to enjoy the cold. I am no expert on the language and culture, but from reading about the phrase, it seems to describe an intentional focus on taking life slow, appreciating small things, spending quality time with loved ones and prioritizing warmth and coziness.
Though winter often stirs up anxiety for many people, especially those who struggle with seasonal affective disorder and other mental health issues that can be exacerbated by nasty weather, hygge can encourage college students to incorporate a little more joy into their lives with some simple practices.
Whether you are a serious athlete or someone who sits at a desk all day, stretching is a great way to be slow and intentional with your movement and focus on caring for your body. I truly believe that a quality 10 minute stretch before bed helps my body deeply relax and fall asleep faster. I can feel the stress leaving my muscle fibers hours after I do it.
I also find walking simply for the sake of walking can be incredibly decompressing and an effective way to take intentional alone time. You can listen to music, a podcast or simply take in the sounds of your surroundings. Try exploring streets you never have before, finding special landmarks or becoming more familiar with your neighborhood.
The absolute worst thing in the winter is being outside and shivering, with no way of warming up. With proper layering, this does not have to be the case. You can enjoy even the coldest, snowiest, windiest days if you are prepared before you step out the door. If you plan on taking winter walks, appropriate layering is essential to a good experience.
Check the temperature before going outside and refer to resources that guide on best practices with layering. A quality parka, wool socks, big scarf and hat can go a long way to keep you warm in the worst conditions. Check local thrift stores or secondhand websites like Facebook Marketplace to find cheaper gear.
Creating a calming and cozy ambience in your living space can go far in boosting your spirits when it’s dark outside. Try warm light bulbs, lamps, candles and string lights as opposed to harsh overhead lighting. If you don’t want to buy anything extra and don’t have much ambient lighting available to you, my best secret is to look up a fireplace video on YouTube and leave that running on my computer or TV screen.
Prioritize warmth and comfort with plenty of warm blankets, sweatshirts, slippers and socks to wear when it’s chilly, and read, watch movies or take part in other activities that help you relax and redirect your energy away from stress that can come with school and work. Make your home a place you enjoy being.
Taking time each day or as often as you can to talk with your roommates, friends and family can make a huge difference in your mood. It is important to maintain your relationships and create a strong network in which you feel supported by others. I like to try and eat dinner with my roommates, or even just do work next to them to enjoy company.
Being proactive about making regular social plans to look forward to — which could be as simple as a walk, movie night, lunch or study session — can help remind you of the warmth in your life in the winter months. With friends or family who are long-distance, set aside time to call and catch up.
Dedicating a day — or simply a couple of hours — to making soup, roast, chili or a homemade broth encourages us to slow down and practice patience for the reward of something delicious. Additionally, soup and adjacent recipes allow you to incorporate a diverse array of ingredients — often ones you may already have sitting around. Think of it as a way to use up vegetables that may spoil soon and give them a special purpose.
Soup also provides plenty of vitamins and can be fully balanced if you include a protein, starch, fats and fiber to fuel your body to be its healthiest in the winter, when many of us will be more prone to sickness. It is warm, nutritious and a labor of love.
Last winter, my friends and I would make friendship bracelets to exchange while watching movies on cold nights in. Setting aside time to do crafts that fill you with joy is an excellent way to intentionally care for yourself and nurture your creativity and relaxation.
Knitting, painting, collaging and jewelry making are all examples of crafts that require a dedication to patience and enjoying the slowness that is central to hygge. Consider gifting your creations to loved ones to spread your joy and brighten their day.
Leila Faraday (she/her) is a sophomore studying policy analysis with minors in geography and urban planning.