Hygge is a Gift We Give Ourselves in the Darkest Winter
The end of the US calendar year falls just after the darkest night of the year: winter solstice (December 21 in the northern hemisphere). This can be a depressingly cold and dark time, especially for people living with and battling cancer, as well as their loved ones and caregivers. Staying hopeful and energized is already so hard. Facing snow, ice, overcast skies, and bitter cold do nothing to boost morale.
But it doesn’t need to be this way. Consider this: Cultures worldwide find ways to reframe the winter solstice into something more positive. Aside from holidays like the Persian festival of Yalda1, Germany’s Yuletide2, and Dongzhi in China3, there are people everywhere who mark this time with cozy actions meant to encourage comfort, warmth, peace, and hope.
The Danes call this practice hygge (pronounced hew-guh), but hygge’s not strictly a Danish practice. It can be practiced by anyone anywhere, even among those dealing with disease or disability.
More mind than matter
In his book, The Little Book of Hygge, Meik Wiking writes:
“Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down. You may be having an endless conversation about the small or big things in life -- or just be comfortable in each other’s silent company -- or simply just be by yourself enjoying a cup of tea.”4
Hygge, then, is more attitude and less effort. It prioritizes ease, self-care, and the calm that radiates from within a home, perfect for people living with illness, already overwhelmed by medication schedules, doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions, hospital treatments, and more.
The secret to hygge? Keep it simple.
Let there be light
If you only do one thing, bring the light -- it’s the best defense against darkness.
Candles are beautiful, easy to come by, and provide quick elegance. They bring light and a sense of emotional warmth that can brighten even the worst day. If you have a fireplace (indoors or outside), light a blaze and allow yourself to be hypnotized by its licking flames. Solstice bonfires are peak hygge! You can also turn to holiday lights for inspiration. Driving through neighborhoods to look at decorated homes makes for simple pleasures. Pack snacks!
If decorating with lights at home is too much, consider arranging battery-powered fairy lights on a festive wreath.
Bring on the cozy
After light, let there be warmth! That means warm socks, colorful slippers, flannel pajamas, fleece robes, soft pillows, and favorite blankets. Even if you’re on bedrest, turn it into an opportunity for hygge by wearing a Santa’s cap.
Some of the best hygge happens when you’re alone. Deep breathing exercises are a tried-and-true way to achieve calm. They’re especially good for helping you fall asleep. You can enhance meditation exercises of all kinds using a pure essential oils diffuser, by the way, using festive fragrances like peppermint or pine.
And speaking of steam...what about a warm bath (or a sauna)? Light some candles, use scented Epsom salts, play relaxing music, and soak away your cares.
Hygge places importance on connection with the folks and pets in your household. You can broaden this to include far-away friends, extended family, and neighbors. Reach out with holiday cards, arrange Facetime phone calls, plan an online gathering, or simply chat in the driveway on a nice day.
Don’t forget about nature. Research shows walks on beaches or in the woods are restorative.5 If you dress appropriately, spending even just 30 minutes outside on a sunny day can raise your spirits. Pack a warm beverage if it’s cold out. A mug of coffee, tea, cocoa, or hot cider can keep you toasty against the winter chill; your body and spirit will thank you.
Keep eating simple. Choose comforting, easy-to-prepare meals that satisfy. They shouldn’t be fancy. Sheet-pan dinners, sandwiches, soups, and casseroles fit the bill.
Keep snacks simple, too: apples and cheese; smoked salmon and crackers; popcorn; hummus and veggies; trail mix. To make these simple meals special, dish them onto holiday plates. Or, serve them on a bedside tray. A bud vase sporting sprigs of holly and cloth napkins can make even PB&J taste better!
Forget the negative chatter online—swap social networks for other media. Choose movies that are uplifting and relaxing. Read books or magazines with funny or inspiring plots. Holiday music may even inspire singing, so good for your mental health!
Don’t forget about games (board, card, or video) and puzzles (jigsaw, crossword, or sudoku); they’re popular pastimes for a reason.
How will you hygge in 2020? Tell us in the comments!
Do you find that staying zen through your lung cancer diagnosis has helped you in your journey?