How Hygge Will Help You Through Winter

The Danish concept of hygge can help you survive and thrive this winter

Late winter in Minnesota can be a real slog. After the holidays, we don’t have much to look forward to besides the long wait for spring to arrive, so we stoically fight the elements, hibernate, or if we’re lucky, take a vacation to a climate closer to the equator.

We could learn something from Denmark, which shares Minnesota’s distinction of being one of the coldest places on earth. According to the United Nation’s World Happiness Report released in 2013, Denmark was named the happiest country in the world, followed by Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden. (The United States came in at a dismal No. 17.) That’s saying a lot for a small, subarctic country where the winter sun often sets before 4 p.m

So what’s behind this phenomenon? Easy access to health care, low crime, and a healthy per-capita gross domestic product are likely factors. But some have pointed to the distinctly Danish concept of hygge (pronounced hYOO-guh) as a major contributor to the country’s happiness. Though no direct English translation of the word exists, it’s associated with ideas of coziness and togetherness, such as sharing a meal with friends and family or sipping mulled wine by a communal bonfire. In her book Xenophobe’s Guide to the Danes, author Helen Dyrbye writes that hygge is “the art of creating intimacy; a sense of comradeship, conviviality, and contentment rolled into one.” We experience something akin to hygge during the holidays, but after New Year’s Eve, we’re on our own until spring.

This year, I’m planning to embrace our winter marvels: the stunning sight of a cascading, frozen Minnehaha Falls, the man-made ice sculptures at the St. Paul Winter Carnival, and, hopefully, the otherworldly, stalactite-esque icicles in the ice caves along Lake Superior’s south shore. I might even try my hand at snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

And naturally, I intend on looking good while I’m at it. Fortunately, functional fashion has come a long way in recent years. You don’t have to sacrifice style for utility: Classic outdoor brand Sorel has given a stylish update to its iconic rubber boot with a streamlined shape, quilted fabric, and faux fur, and Canada Goose has slimmed the fit of its incredibly warm, goose feather–stuffed parkas. And don’t miss the hand-knit clothing and accessories crafted by local designers, such as those featured on pages 34 and 35, that will make you more cozy and cuddleable.

But when it comes to discovering your own personal hygge, remember that it’s not as much about what you wear as making the most of the season.

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