Battling Seasonal Affective Disorder with Hygge

Photo by Haley Powers on Unsplash

Growing up in Portland, Oregon, I always loved the colder, darker months. They were moody, perfect for sipping coffee and writing (admittedly bad) adolescence-inspired songs on my cheap acoustic guitar. Having only known the Pacific Northwest’s cold embrace, I thrived as the leaves changed from green to orange to frozen on the sidewalk.

More excuses to wear layers, I’d say.

And then, I moved to California. Beautiful, sunny, drought-ridden California. No need for layers in the Golden State!

Sunny and 65º quickly became my standard, so when I moved to Seattle two years ago, the total darkness of winter was a shock to my adopted-Californian system. With my freshly suntanned point of view, winter wasn’t cozy anymore; the notorious Seasonal Affective Disorder fully took hold, capitalizing on my depressive predisposition. It was, by far, the darkest winter of my soul.

The sadness had crept in along with the cold, and it stayed firmly in place for months.

For those who have managed to go this long without running into one of the many articles, how-to listicles, or videos about the Danish word “hygge,” (pronounced HOO-gah), it is perhaps best summarized as an indefinable word that acknowledges the cozy sense of contented satisfaction that would come from sitting in front of a roaring fireplace with a hot mug of cocoa while it snows outside. Whether alone or with some beloved friends, that delightful sense of being fully present and enjoying something special brings up feel-good emotions and takes the bite off even the coldest weather.

It’s just nice. It’s lovely.

It’s hygge.

Hygge isn’t just a nice practice that Danes whip out for particularly morose weather, either. It’s built into nearly every piece of their life. It’s taking the extra fifteen minutes to go to the market with the really good cheese counter. Or to write a thank-you note by hand and drop it off at your maintenance person’s office.

It’s about finding a way to enjoy something more. From the mundane to the festive, every moment has the opportunity for more hygge.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

It’s a way of life. And, seeing as they’re statistically the happiest country on earth, the Danes seem to know a thing or two about how to live well.

Maybe, I thought last summer, hygge is part of that infamous happiness.

Of course, I’m not the only one who has had the bright idea to try cozying up as a coping mechanism. Plenty of others have attempted to implement hygge as a means of warding off seasonal affective disorder, so when I got to work this year on setting up an ultra-cozy winter, I had plenty of resources, from blogs to books to my fellow S.A.D. battlers.

Using all the tools I could find, I prepped for this winter by doing a little research. Here’s what I learned.

The Basics of Hygge
As written by this American who— it should be noted— has never been to Denmark.

Light Up the Darkness

Denmark, like our fair Seattle, is dark much of the year, and hygge is about lightening up the mood–– and the room.

The first thing I learned, thanks to The Book of Hygge by Louisa Thomsen Brits and The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking (who also happens to be the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen) is that hygge doesn’t require much in terms of props–– the only requirement, seemingly, is candles. (Okay, so they’re not required, but they are a really simple way to maximize your hygge-factor!) They don’t have to be fancy, expensive ones (and, actually, spending lots of money on something isn’t very hygge at all–– but more on that later), basic tea lights will do.

Not a fan of burning stuff in your home? Simply changing the lighting to something warm (skip overhead, fluorescent, and blue-tinted lights) or even adding a few twinkle lights should do the trick!

Drown Your Sorrow in Cake

The next thing to be defined as somewhat of a hygge staple is something sweet, ideally (as mentioned in the aforementioned books) cake.

While not required, something tasty adds another layer of sensory exploration to the experience. And, since you’re already having that morsel, why not add in a cup of your favorite hot beverage, too?

Since we associate sugary treats with special occasions, it makes sense that enjoying something delicious would help yield a sort of decadent feeling. If a small truffle or something savory is more your style, by all means, go for it. The point is that it’s a little something special that feels special. Even a small treat can feel extra luxe when chosen specifically for the act of truly enjoying it.

Be Present

More than anything else, hygge is mostly about engaging with your environment and finding a way to make it feel special.

Hygge is much more about investing your energy into soaking up the juicy goodness of a moment than spending money on it–– so no need to go on a decor shopping spree or bake the most intricate cake recipe you can find.

Show up, prepare your space mindfully, and savor every second of it.

… But It’s More Than That, Too

It isn’t just about having a pretty space to kick back in. Hygge is about curating the way we spend our time, being aware of how we choose to live our lives, and connecting with the world we create for ourselves–– this includes those who we surround ourselves with, and what we do with them.

While the photos of hygge include beautifully arranged spaces fit for an HGTV show, that’s not what makes them hygge. It’s about what’s done with them after the fact. Sure, a pleasant-looking environment is one way to achieve some peace at home, but engaging with it in a meaningful way is a different story.

Here are a few of the ways I’m utilizing my space and warding off the winter blues this year thanks to some Danish inspiration:

1. I’ve Invested in Games

Jenga, mancala, cards, and other analog-style games have been making their way into my life as I try to embrace a more hygge-infused season. Evenings in with my partner are often more intentional as we play things together, and hosting friends has become a much more engaging experience with the help of a few rounds of friendly competition.

The act of pulling out a board game and prepping the couch with blankets and putting a couple hot mugs of tea on the coffee table? I gotta say, it’s pretty damn cozy.

2. My Candle Game Has Been Upgraded

While spending a lot of money isn’t very hyggelig, I couldn’t resist a buy-one-get-one sale on Christmas cookie and pine tree scented candles. In addition to making my home a better-lit one, it also smells incredibly fresh and homey.

Delicious-smelling, inviting lighting that I didn’t have to break the bank for? Definitely hygge as heck.

3. The Outdoors Are Now Indoors

It just so happens that I moved into a new apartment in November, and along with new apartments come the classic housewarming gift: new houseplants!

We’re a pretty plant-heavy household as it is, but I’ll be the first one to admit that not every little green friend makes it. With the addition of a couple ferns, some new succulents, and a Christmas cactus, our collection brightened up and lent a more lively feeling to the space while also improving the air quality.

Also, as part of a Solstice celebration with Souldust, we made fir swags and strung batteryoperated twinkle lights on them, thus increasing the cozy factor of my living room by quite a few points.

Plants + gentle lighting? I feel like I’ve hacked the code to hygge!

Photo by Annie Theby on Unsplash

4. I’m Using–– Not Saving–– the Best Stuff

I have a habit of saving the best stuff I buy for “special occasions” that simply never come. I figured, why not make it a special occasion to just use the thing and let that be special in itself?

That’s kind of what hygge is all about, at its root. Really enjoying something for what it is.

So, instead of saving my favorite shirts for special days when I go into the office or out to a coffee date with a friend, I wear them even when I’m sitting at home so that I can enjoy them for enjoyment’s sake–– my own enjoyment. I didn’t save the super luxurious drinking chocolate my spouse gave me for the holidays–– I shared it with my loved ones when I got it. I’ve lit the candles I purchased, drank the whole box of my favorite tea, used some of those bath bombs I
had tucked away for bad days… And I’ve enjoyed being in my home even more.

5. I Got a Puppy

Okay, so this isn’t the most practical hygge-inspo for everyone, but I can’t tell you how cozy it is to snuggle up with a sleeping puppy in my lap. My little fluff ball makes spending time at home as intentional as possible since I’m so busy keeping him busy and, bonus, he also forces me to keep my house clean since A. everything is a potentially toxic choking hazard and B. I’ve never had more visitors to my house in my life.

All of these things have lent a totally cozy vibe to my winter and I hope to continue to utilize the power of hygge as the days, slowly but surely, become brighter.

If you’re looking for more ideas about how to bring hygge into your home, try one of these suggestions:

  • Make a list of all the most hygge moments of your life to inspire new ideas. Make sure to wear your softest sweater and enjoy a hot cocoa while you’re at it!
  • Go sledding or have a picnic with someone you love
  • Bake cookies and gift half of them to a friend or neighbor
  • Pick up a coloring book or print out free pages and make an afternoon of light crafting, solo or with others
  • Host a tea party and have everyone bring a treat to share
  • Cook a giant pot of stew all day long and get your house smelling delicious
  • String up those holiday lights you keep stored away the rest of the year
  • Write letters by hand to your far-off loved ones–– and then actually send them!
  • Create a hyggekrog: an especially comfy and special nook that is specifically for getting ultra-hyggelig. Make sure to pile up the pillows, throw blankets, sheepskins, and anything else that makes you feel your best. Park a pair of slippers nearby and make sure to add a candle or two to the space!
  • Attend a local meet-up or social club to connect with others over your favorite games and hobbies
  • Build a blanket fort and have a Netflix binge inside
  • Head to the library with a cup of something tasty and warm and spend a couple hours wandering the aisles, smelling the old books, and perhaps discovering your newest favorite author
  • Bundle up and take a long walk through your neighborhood, snapping photos of anything that catches your eye. Really taking in the scenery puts you in the moment and paying attention to the details will give you a whole new appreciation of where you live
  • Treat yourself to a DIY spa day. Recipes for simple face masks and bath treatments can be found with a quick Google search

When all else fails, simply hang out with one of your favorite people and talk. It’s a surefire way to get all those yummy hygge feels, it’s free, and–– bonus–– it’s the heart of what hygge culture is all about: simple, heartfelt enjoyment.

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Callie Little

Callie Little writes professionally for places like Vice, Architectural Digest, Teen Vogue, and more. She lives in Seattle with her spouse and really, really likes dogs and La Croix sparkling water. Find her complete portfolio at and follow her on social media at @goshcallie.

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