The Life-Changing Magic of Hygge: A Simple, Effective Way to Triumph Over Winter

Even for the winter sports enthusiast, the season can have its moments:

It doesn’t snow enough in December. It snows in June. The car gets stuck. It’s too dark to exercise after work, then it’s too dark to exercise before.

Ask the Scandinavians how they do it (and with as few as seven hours of daylight in December), and the answer is as streamlined as an arctic A-Frame: hygge.

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“Coziness” might be the word’s best translation, although it conjures up a host of other comfy characteristics like togetherness, enjoyment, relaxation, and ease. According to Meik Wiking, the CEO of Denmark’s Happiness Research Institute and the author of The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well, “the true essence of hygge is the pursuit of everyday happiness.” (The proper pronunciation of the word is more like hue-gah)

Even if you think you’ve got winter down, you could likely use some more hygge in your heart and home. Embrace these four tenets of coziness to fully unlock the happiness of the season.

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Let there be light

Supplemental light is guaranteed to help you to relax into winter’s dearth of the natural stuff. String holiday lights through the trees in your backyard, adorn your deck with candles, and then treat the glow as something to behold. Same goes for inside: have fun with lamps, strands of different-sized and colored bulbs, and candles, putting them in unlikely places like around the kitchen and leading to the bathroom. No indoor space to make a fire? Cluster an assortment of candles in a safe spot, and enjoy your homemade candleplace. According to hygge expert Wiking, “no recipe for hygge is complete without candles. When Danes are asked what they most associate with hygge, an overwhelming 85 percent mention candles.”

Ibex Advocate Alex Gulsby takes a cozy break by the fire.

Ibex Advocate Alex Gulsby takes a warm break.

Fire it up

Admit it — it can be hard to feel happy when you’re cold. But, as anyone who’s bellied up to a campfire after a big day playing outside knows it’s pretty easy to remedy the despair of shivering with the warmth of a fire. Rally some buddies or get the kids off the couch, build a stone fire ring in the backyard (or, rent/use one from your local parks and recreation, and get to work assembling your best tipi or log cabin. Be sure to have plenty of logs to keep the heat cranking. Want to really set your natural thermostat high? Gather and chop the firewood yourself. The Reversible Camp Shirt Jac will keep you toasty and protected from the elements while you channel your best inner lumberjack.

Get out

The third tenet of hygge, access to nature, is certainly our favorite. Traditional winter sports like Nordic and downhill skiing are no-brainers if you live in places where it snows. If you’re not a skier, new technology like fat tire bikes and micro-spikes for your trail running shoes mean that you can access some of your favorite summer trails when they’re blanketed in winter white. The Indie Half Zip is a perfect layer for high-output activities, and you won’t turn into a block of ice when you stop to sip hot cocoa mid-ski/ride/run. After all, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.

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Gather round

As hygge practitioners around the world know, the ultimate antidote to winter’s potential to encourage isolation and solitude is the gathering place. Like the farmer’s market or a concert in the summer, communal spaces encourage people to relax, socialize, and share in an experience. Throw in a cold beer and a picnic basket loaded with cheese and crackers, and who wouldn’t feel like all is right in the world? The winter gathering place may seem more elusive, but if you mix equal parts whiskey, lemon, honey, and hot water (or tea), organize an impromptu sledding session or urban walking tour, you can create the cold-weather equivalent of a laid-back summer day. Some cities like Edmonton, Alberta and Portland, Oregon are even making the winter gathering place a civic duty, creating festivals and outdoor art installations that draw people to gather together when they might otherwise stay home alone.

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