Photos courtesy of Hygge & West
Those Norwegians. They endure the longest, snowiest, coldest winters and yet—as research done by Kari Leibowritz, a PhD student at Stanford University, recently showed—their mental health is just fine. How do they do it, you ask? By approaching winter as an adventure. In northern Norway, “people view winter as something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured,” Leibowitz told Fast Company.
Moreover, the Norwegians and their Scandinavian neighbors practice hygge when they come in from their outdoor activities. Hygge (pronounced hue-guh) is a Danish word for cozy. Who better than Aimee Lagos and Christiana Coop, founders of Hygge & West, a Minneapolis-based purveyor of all things cozy, to help us get in the mood. We asked them about hunkering down, getting cozy, and practicing hygge—whether you’re by yourself and gathering with family and friends. Here’s what they had to say.
MH: Can we in the North practice hygge even if we’re not Scandinavian?
Lagos: Yes! Hygge originated in Scandinavian culture but easily expands beyond, which is the reason we fell in love with hygge when we first encountered it over 10 years ago. Our interpretation of hygge is simply appreciating small moments and trying to make your environment and your life cozier, whatever that might mean to you. We feel it’s highly individual.
Coop: Absolutely! Hygge is really about creating a comfortable environment, which means surrounding yourself with things and people that make you feel content and joyful.
How does hygge help engage the senses during the winter?
Lagos: Going back to the appreciation of small moments, hygge is the state of feeling content, which we think allows you to observe things more closely. Hygge invites you to savor small pleasures that can be found everywhere. I think the extreme weather serves to heighten your senses. The cold air feels clean and crisp, and there’s a quiet that you only experience during the winter.
Coop: I really focus on sense of smell in winter, especially since you end up indoors more. Savor a homemade soup, make mulled wine, light a fire, keep scented candles burning all day long.
There are so many fireplaces in the hygge photos! How can you create hygge if you don’t have a fireplace?
Lagos: Well, as someone who only has a gas-burning fireplace (much to my constant chagrin), I am a huge fan of this pinon incense from our home state of New Mexico. It makes your house smell like you have a fireplace (which is the best part of a fire in my opinion.) Any cozy space where you can dim the lights a bit, light candles, and snuggle up in warm blankets creates a sense of hygge—fireplace or not.
Coop: I was just at a holiday party where they had one of those fireplace videos on their TV screen and it actually did add to the cozy vibes of the get together. But hygge really is more about appreciating what you have and living in the moment, which you can definitely do without a fireplace!
What do you do with restless kids—or your own restlessness—in the middle of hygge season?
Lagos: Get outside! Yes, it’s cold, but it’s so beautiful and refreshing to get out and enjoy the winter. I was not a fan of being outside in the cold until I had kids. My boys pretty much insisted that I spend time outdoors. We’re so lucky in the Twin Cities to have so many outdoor activities no matter the time of year.
Coop: I’ve been doing more craft projects since daylight savings. The dark evenings can feel endless, so it’s nice to do something productive. And read more books!
What more can we learn from our Scandinavian friends about how to not only survive but thrive during winter?
Lagos: I think hygge is mostly about attitude. The winter can be tough this far north. It’s very cold and gets dark early. I consider this time of year restorative, though. I don’t feel bad about bunkering down on the sofa with a good book or getting in bed early. The shorter days mean that I often get to see the sunrise and the sunset, which I rarely do during the summer. My cooking veers into comfort food territory and we enjoy heavy, hearty meals. There’s so much to appreciate about the winter.