Winter can be "the best of times" and "the worst of times." Best, because the holiday season brings celebration and joy. Worst, because there are fewer daylight hours, winter storms can paralyze some areas of the country. People in their homes can be secluded and lonely. That sense of winter loneliness may magnify as we age since family can live at a distance, plus mobility and fatigue can be challenging. Embracing hygge entails cultivating coziness and well-being in our surroundings, particularly during the colder months.
Hygge is a Danish way of life to find contentment in the simple pleasures in life, even in the long dark days of winter.
One of the key components of creating hygge is lighting, lighting, lighting! Keep it soft and low.
By creating a hygge lifestyle, you can experience lower stress levels and improved mental and physical health.
Hygge can be experienced alone, with a loved one, or with a group of good friends. Creating a cozy and inviting atmosphere and appreciating life and each other.
Nowhere is the lack of daylight more apparent than in the Scandinavian countries. There can be upwards of 17 hours of darkness in Denmark, yet last year, Denmark ranked as one of the Happiest Countries in the world (The US ranked number 15!) Even with their long, dark winter days, how do the people of Denmark remain so happy? Some believe it is the cultural practice of something called "hygge."
What is Hygge?
You may or may not have heard the word "hygge" (HUE-gah), but it is a cultural way of life that has had its roots in Denmark for centuries. If the thought of spending a warm winter evening curled up by the fireplace, dim lighting, and soft music fills you with a profound sense of comfort and security, you may have been experiencing hygge.
Meik Wiking is CEO of the Happiness Research Institute (what a great job!) and author of The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well describes hygge.
It's somewhere we sit by ourselves to rest while experiencing ultimate feelings of coziness and warmth, and it's somewhere we spend time with our dear ones to intensify our feeling of togethernessMeik Wiking
I don't know about you, but that quote made me feel all warm inside!
Understanding Hygge for older adults
Even though adults can advance in years, it doesn't mean that life slows down. Many more adults work past a designated retirement age, either out of financial necessity or because they love their work. Life is busy, so creating a peaceful environment becomes even more essential to wind down and reflect as we age.
Even if older adults are retired, life can be busy or at a welcomed slower pace; either way, hygge can serve as a haven and a space to recharge.
Exploring cozy spaces
Look at an area in your living space to create a place of refuge where you can feel cozy and safe. One of the key factors in creating hygge is low lighting. The soft light of a fireplace, candles, or lamps that give off a low diffuse glow generates this atmosphere.
Our vision may diminish as we age, so soft lighting can increase the risk of falls. Although it might be soothing to sit in dim light, it’s important to make sure you have a brighter light nearby to use when you need to get up to move around the space. Of course,
Have comfortable furniture, and consider throws, blankets, and pillows in your space to make it inviting for your guests and provide that extra sense of warmth. Keeping your "scrolling screens" out of this area is ideal, but watching a favorite movie can also give you a sense of hygge. Remember to have your favorite music playing and a few favorite books within your reach.
Our meaningful connections to other people are vital in all stages of life, but as we age, we value the quality of our friendships over the number of "friends" we have on Facebook. It's essential to grow, foster relationships, and build camaraderie. Maintaining contact with family and friends benefits our mental health, physical health, and longevity.
So, creating hygge in your life can generate an inviting atmosphere to foster those relationships with family and friends. It's not just about having fun with those you care for, although that is a great benefit. Hygge in a group or community is about having meaningful conversations around shared passions. Let's not just talk about the weather!
As an older adult, there are a number of things you can do to cultivate hygge. Activities that may promote relaxation and mindfulness include:
- Play an instrument
- Taking a quiet walk
- Knitting, crocheting, or needlework
- Board games
You can engage in any activity that brings you a sense of accomplishment and joy.
Tips for incorporating Hygge in daily life
Simplifying the home
Hygge is more than just designing a room in your home. You may be able to sense hygge in a home as soon as you walk through the door out of the cold. Try a few simple practices that can help you create a hygge-friendly home.
Decluttering can be daunting, but tackling it one step at a time can give you a sense of accomplishment and peace. As we age, we may have several "things" we keep that may no longer be needed. If you need to, you can hire a professional decluttering service. If you simplify your living space, you simplify your life, creating a serene, hygge-friendly environment.
You can create hygge by appealing to your senses.
- Sight. Low lighting with shaded lamps, floor lamps, candles, or a fireplace.
- Smell. You may wish to have scented candles or a bouquet of fresh flowers in your space.
- Hearing. Soft music or a water feature can also serve to bring about hygge.
- Touch. Cozy fleece blankets or pillows in your space.
- Taste. Do you have a dessert or candy that brings warm memories from your youth, like butterscotch hard candy? You can have a candy dish or your favorite wine to give you hygge.
Enjoying simple pleasures
Hygge is about enjoying the simple pleasures in life, such as:
- Curling up in a blanket with warm tea on a cold winter evening.
- Taking a walk on a wintery forest trail, embracing the beauty of nature.
- Watching your newborn grandchild falling asleep in your arms.
- Sitting with a dear friend over a warm drink in a quiet café.
And the list goes on as you create your ideas for the simple pleasures of hygge.
Physical and mental well-being
Stress increases cortisol levels (which is an adrenal hormone), contributing to several chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders. Even if you do live with a chronic illness, living in a hygge environment can reduce the impact stress can have on your physical well-being.
Stress impacts our mental health as well. Increased stress levels can lead to anxiety and depression as well as exacerbate other mental health illnesses. Reducing the stress that severely impacts our lives, even for a time, can add an improved sense of our mental well-being.
Hygge creates a "pause" to experience joy, fulfillment, and reflection. Creating a hygge atmosphere can give your day, month, and year meaning, whether you are spending it with close friends for a book club or by yourself sipping hot apple cider on a winter's eve. Making a conscious effort to incorporate hygge into your daily routine can lead to a feeling of happiness, success, and wellbeing.
- World Happiness Report. Statistical Appendix for "World happiness, trust and social connections in times of crisis," Chapter 2 of World Happiness Report 2023.
- Americal Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Strategies to Promote Social Connections Among Older Adults During "Social Distancing" Restrictions.