Self-care — plus pastries: What Denmark can teach us about surviving winter

It's called hygge. And it might just change your life.

Hygge Photo, lutavia:iStock

Photo, Lutavia/iStock.

If you are someone who embraces the cold, lives for winter sports and enjoys being wrapped up in a parka trudging through the snow when it’s below freezing, I give you a standing ovation. Because let’s face it: Canadian winters — even unusually mild ones — can be tough. According to the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction, 25 to 35 percent of Canadians experience the winter blues.

But there is hope, and it’s found in DenmarkIn a country that sees just seven hours of sunlight during the winter months (Canada gets nine), Denmark was first on the World Happiness Report 2016 update (Canada was sixth). Helen Russell, British journalist and author of The Year of Living Danishlyspent a year trying to crack the secret to Denmark’s success when her husband relocated there for work. The answer: the concept of hygge (pronounced hoo-guh).

“[Hygge] is the complete absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming. It’s being surrounded by calm relaxing things,” says Russell from her home office in Denmark — candles burning, her dog resting on her feet to keep them warm. Russell sees hygge as a big happiness influencer, especially in the colder months. And though creating a warm and inviting home is a big part of hygge (even Russell’s son’s daycare burns candles), it’s about more than being physically cozy. It has been a way of life for the Danes since the 18th century, with comfort at its centre — namely, making time for family, friends and, most importantly, doing things you enjoy.

How to make your home smell delicious — no candles needed

“It was -16 last week, and this week is rainy and depressing,” says Russell. “People huddle inside, enjoy a Danish pastry and a nice coffee and make plans to see friends. Danes are really good at [prioritizing] the things [that] help us feel better when the weather turns bad or life feels tough.”

This effort towards self-care might seem foreign to Westerners, who can’t seem to relax without crippling feelings of guilt, but we could stand to take a page from Denmark’s playbook. There, Russell says, the shops close at 2pm on Saturdays and all day on Sundays to afford citizens quality time with their loved ones. “That togetherness has been shown in studies, time and again, to be a really good indicator of happiness,” says Russell.

So how do we bring a little more hygge into our lives? It’s probably simpler than you think:

1. Create an indoor sanctuary. Invest in some snuggly throws and soft lighting.
2. Take time for yourself. Turn off your phone and read a good book under a thick duvet. 
3. Practice self-compassion. “The research from Denmark and the UK shows that hygge can make us happier — being kinder to ourselves means we’re more likely to be kinder to other people,” says Russell.
4. Indulge. Eat that pastry. With tea.
5. Prioritize family-and-friend time. Especially when you’re having a bad week. Book coffee dates with friends, take a bundled-up winter walk and have a nice meal with those closest to you.
6. Scope out our picks for creating a cozy haven of your own:

5 habits to help you feel more at home…at home
Video: How to make your living space feel cozy in the winter
15 cozy dessert recipes for winter baking

Get Chatelaine in your inbox!

Our very best stories, recipes, style and shopping tips, horoscopes and special offers. Delivered a couple of times a week.