Some years it feels like winter just won’t quit.
To beat the winter blues this year, I took some advice from famously happy cultures in extremely cold climates. I adopted a (modified) approach to coziness that left me feeling energized and healthy, not dragged down by winter at all, while more surprisingly saving me money as I dove into DIY and crafting for entertainment.
Scandinavian lifestyles have been trending recently following reporting that these countries are consistently ranked among the highest on the gross national happiness index. The Danish lifestyle concept hygge, (pronounced hoo-ga) and the Swedish lagom, (lah-Gohm) represent an aesthetic adapted to the seasons, especially in Sweden where winters are dark and long, and summers are blessed with round-the-clock sun. Finding joy year-round involves leaning into the seasons. In winter that means being cozy, burning lots of candles, taking hot baths and throwing yourself into DIY.
Remember to keep it simple. I didn’t get fancy with my experiment in Scandinavian living. When a suggestion was too complicated, I broke it down and did steps I knew I could follow.
Here are the key points that worked for me:
This practice keeps the atmosphere cozy and makes it easier to enjoy those dark days. One book on lagom, the Swedish aesthetic I can only describe in Goldilocks terms — not too much, not too little, just right — suggested candlelit breakfast during the darkest part of the year. Trying this out made me feel more awake in the dark morning. Having candles light my den in the evenings helped me adapt to early darkness and transition to sleep easier, and it felt way nicer than frying my eyeballs looking at electric lights into the late night.
Have the Right Gear
As a New Englander you would think I have had ample time to select the right footwear, outerwear and every type of scarf and hat needed to keep the cold and the wet at bay. But I only recently started wearing long underwear on the coldest days, and it totally changed my outlook.
In an extremely cold climate having the right underwear can improve your mood and free up your energy for enjoying the beautiful snow. Consider a fleece layer or a pair of good socks. Wool will hold your body heat even when it is wet, unlike synthetics. If you don’t have a pair of gloves, you are spending some of your energy warming your hands and being uncomfortable when they get wind-chapped.
Get Outdoors in All Weather
According to a Swedish proverb, there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing. Anyone who loves a winter sport can tell you that the best way to enjoy the season is to get outside and do something fun.
Wearing the right gear allows you to exercise and boost your immune system while doing so. And while you are out there, you might see amazing patterns of frozen branches, the tracks of a tiny animal or bright stars in a dry and cold evening sky. Appreciating nature helps you stay connected, and that feeling of serenity can get you through the winter blues.
Hot and Cold Cycling
Take a hot bath or steam, followed by a plunge in cold water or a roll in the snow, then repeat. Not having access to a sauna, and not being especially brave, I modified this advice and ran a very hot bath, fully submerging to heat myself up and then getting out of the tub to cool down on the bath mat before repeating two more times.
You could add Epsom salts or bubbles to your bath. I love to add a few drops of eucalyptus oil and lemon oil to make things fragrant. I am willing to bet that this hot and cold practice, which increases circulation, also keeps your immune system in top shape during the dark months of being cooped up in close quarters and exposed to colds.
Plus, it feels so luxurious. When you cycle the hot and cold exposure, you warm your core and then the cold air or water closes your pores. The result is that you keep your core heat far longer and carry it with you, feeling radiant.
Repair Rather Than Replace
Invest in high-quality second hand items and spend some cozy candle-lit evenings repairing what you love. You’ll save money and appreciate what you own more, and that care will show in your home and your clothes.
Visible mending is a lovely trend of clothing items that have been loved and repaired, without trying to hide their flaws but rather showcasing the care you put into the mend. You can extend the life of your favorite garments by adding an elbow or knee patch, or embroidering around the holes on a sweater to make a decorative pattern that keeps it from unraveling further. If needlework isn’t your thing, you might have a bike seat to repair or maybe some carpentry or painting that would brighten your home.
Learning the skill you need to make a repair may seem daunting, but many tutorials are available online. Taking a little time to gather the materials can save you money on calling a repairman (with the exception of plumbing and electrical work, seek professional help for those).
What I loved the most about the DIY focus of lagom was that it emphasized becoming happy with what you have, beautifying your possessions, and not giving in to retail therapy and disposable goods.
We often tighten our wallets after the holidays and feel a little miserable as a result. What if instead you could be cozy, turn off ads and online shopping and sit down with a handcrafted project that will save you money, give you a feeling of accomplishment and repair a useable item?
Making wardrobe repairs felt like I was rewarding myself for shopping my closet. As I put care and attention back into my favorite things, I no longer needed to throw them away, and the sense of accomplishment snowballed (pun intended).
Take Breaks to Drink Strong, High-Quality Caffeine
For me there is such a thing as too much caffeine. Fortunately I did find a balance where I felt invincible without too much twitching.
I kept all my caffeine consumption before noon. For less sensitive types feel free to go as late as 2 p.m.
Coffee breaks taken communally are a huge part of Danish work culture, and coffee is often paired with a sweet treat. Next time you go for a cup at work, bring a co-worker and turn the trip into a fun social break.
Leave Work On Time or Early
This one was easy to implement! My previous tendency was to stay late when I didn’t have a very productive day, sometimes off the clock, to try to make up for my lack of productivity. Going home on time religiously and starting again fresh gave me more energy to get projects done. It felt like a gift to my future self. A bit of caffeine and a timely departure combine for a productive cycle that won’t crush your soul.
Embracing cozy living is a way to feel a sense of abundance all winter and all year long. It’s an affordable and sustainable approach to your lifestyle, whether you live in Denmark or Denver.
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