I’ll be honest: I tend to experience a mild case of the winter blues, and each year I try to prevent it from consuming me.
I’ve tried various things to get through the Chicago winters. I’ve tried creating exercise routines. I purchased a sunlight alarm clock that mimics sunsets and sunrises to help me fall asleep and wake up. I have even scheduled getaway trips and mini vacations.
They all help. But inevitably I end up spending a lot of time indoors, watching garbage television and feeling blah.
I usually feel a lot better once the warmer weather comes around, and I spend more time outside and with loved ones.
When we enter these cold winter months in Chicago, many people experience a version of seasonal depression. This year, I’m trying something new to combat it.
Inspiration from Scandinavia
My editor told me about hygge, pronounced (hugh-guh) and a Danish expression. To find out more about it I called Kristen Larson, who works at Chicago’s Swedish American Museum and is ancestrally Danish.
Larson told me all about what hygge is and why it might help me to try and incorporate it into my life this winter.
“There is no literal translation in English from this Danish word,” Larson said. “So the best way to describe it is like a feeling that was commonly associated with comfort and joy. It’s also been associated with adjectives like gentle, soothing, connectedness, grounded being authentic and being present.”
Hygge has become more popular over the years and the expression of hygge made a splash back in 2016 when it became the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year.
More than candles and socks
But I still wasn’t sure what hygge was, exactly. Blankets? Candles? Sweaters and cozy socks? Thinking about it just made me feel hot, and although such accessories would make a cute Instagram post, I turned back to Larson for further clarification.
Larson said, no, hygge, is not about materialistic or tangible things. Instead it’s about emotions and feelings. Like how you feel when you have a deep conversation with a friend, or when you spend your free time doing something you enjoy.
Larson changed my perspective; it’s not about the “things.” Hygge is about how you feel.
“Are you comfortable? Are you warm? Are you grounded and open to moments of connectedness with the people around you?” Larson said. “The true expression of hygge is joining with a loved one in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere.”
I want those feelings, especially in the winter when I usually feel very low energy and bored. So this is what I will focus on this winter. I’m going to try and create more moments of connectedness, authenticity and feelings of comfort.
Fortunately, Larson provided me with some tips. Here are some of the things I’m trying:
To disconnect from distractions that prevent me from making connections with the people who are around me.
To make my living and work space reflect my values, like a place where I can be comfortable and my authentic self.
To create rituals, even if they are small, like incorporating candles into a candlelit dinner. Or having Fika (fee-ka). Fika is a Swedish tradition and ritual that is the act of taking a break and socializing while enjoying a hot drink — typically coffee — and with a snack. It is a moment to slow down and appreciate the good.
Actually, Fika is right up my alley. I have really tried to take a break during the day and get coffee or tea while talking with someone, or even FaceTiming and not working.
The hard part is to not let myself think or talk about work during that break.
Bring your own blanket
So as I try to get through another Chicago winter, Hygge is helping me realize that my mental health and well-being are important and need dedicated time. I’m really leaning into the whole authenticity feeling of it and prioritizing being intentional about how I spend my time.
I might even really step outside my typical winter routine and throw a BYOB Hygge Party. As in Bring Your Own Blanket. I’m thinking about gathering a group of friends around a bonfire or fireplace. Each person can bring a camping chair, a blanket, their favorite drink and something that makes them feel comfortable.
That seems low maintenance and chill with the promise of sparking up great conversations. But first I think I’ll purchase a ticket to Cancun, Mexico — just so I have something warm to look forward to.
Araceli Gómez-Aldana is a reporter and host at WBEZ. Follow her @Araceli1010.