Do we enjoy the simple things in our lives?

Published 9:43 am Friday, November 27, 2015

Live United by Ann Austin

The days are getting darker and the weather is getting cold — many people dread the wintertime. But what if we embraced it instead?

In Scandinavian culture there is a concept named “hygge,” which is not clearly defined, but loosely means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the simple things in life with the people we love.

Email newsletter signup

Walking through the streets of Norway, Sweden and especially Denmark — some of the places that get the darkest — you can see candles in the windows and lights lining the streets. Rather than dreading the winter season, it becomes a time with its own traditions that span beyond the holidays we celebrate.

Ann Austin

Ann Austin

I remember walking home from attending class in Norway and, though it was bitterly cold and I had seen sunlight for maybe one or two hours during the day, it was one of my favorite memories. There were candles in every window and bright colors inside the homes — I could feel the warmth radiating to the outside and it warmed my heart.

We would gather together as friends and share stories and embrace the art of winter exploration — taking long treks in the woods, smelling the smells of the season and watching for fresh footprints of woodland creatures in the snow.

The winter brings its own sense of wonder — it is up to us to create traditions that add meaning to our lives.

Many of the things children love to do create the sense of hygge — sledding, building snow forts with friends, enjoying hot cocoa. In some ways, we can embrace hygge by recalling our childhood and recreating the experiences we enjoyed the most.

Some of the newer traditions people are starting, such as “Friendsgiving” are hygge — especially since spending time with family who live a great distance away is not always possible.

Generally, hygge practices in Scandinavia involve a lot of candles, wood-burning or gas fireplaces, strung twinkle lights or seasonal light therapy products are common-place in Northern countries to help keep spirits up.

There is a saying in Scandinavia that bad weather doesn’t exist, just bad clothing. It’s just as important to spend time outside in the fresh air — though it may be really inviting to stay inside with the warmth, getting regular exercise helps improve mood and keeps the mind sharp.

Drinking warm beverages like hot cocoa, tea and mulled wine or Glogg, is also hygge and a common tradition in Scandinavia. Spices are good for our health and are very warming. There is an excellent recipe for a nonalcoholic Glogg: Take 10 whole cloves, 7 cardamom pods (crushed), 2 cinnamon sticks and 1/2 piece ginger root and tie it up in a cheesecloth bag. Heat the bag together with 2 cups water, 10 almonds (cut in half), 1 c. pitted prunes, 1 3/4 c. raisins, and 1 orange (cut in quarters) to boiling in a Dutch oven, crock pot or large pot. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove bag, prunes and orange. Stir in 2 gallons of apple cider/juice and 1/3 c. sugar and heat until it bubbles. This recipe makes 24 half-cup servings.

Whatever traditions you start or add through the winter season, hygge is about creating authentic connections with others and re-connecting with our selves; creating a sense of community and well-being. A common appreciation for the simple things in life brings us closer to each other and helps us realize how thankful we can be for each day we have.


Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.