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COLUMN: Hygge! Bless you!

We are well into the longest-shortest month of the year.
Jill Cunningham

We are well into the longest-shortest month of the year. How’s everybody doing? Anybody need anything, maybe a mindset shift?

Mindset, according to Alia Crum of Stanford University, is the lens through which information is perceived, organized and interpreted. Mindset can have a significant influence on both our mental and physical health. Here’s an example of one: The Optimist Daily suggests we see winter ”not as the antithesis to summer, but as an entirely different and equally wonderful natural phenomenon.”

Was that a groan paired with an eye roll!? Okay, I get it, but just grab a hot drink, wrap yourself in the softest, warmest blanket you have, put your feet up and hear me out. This shift may just ‘up’ your life satisfaction, especially considering that our position at 53 degrees latitude north offers up more than a quarter of our calendar year in a winter wonderland.

About ten years ago I recognized I was experiencing a mildly depressed mood in the fall. I would gripe about the short dark days and had the sense that I was bracing in order to endure an interminable and bleak season. At some point, however, a hardy and determined seed must have slipped into my icy psyche and germinated. A new attitude towards winter has blossomed for me. I’ve had a mindset shift.

That seed of positivity had everything to do with acknowledging that the natural world powers down in the winter, and my system wants to do the same. North American culture refuses to acknowledge this natural phenomenon and presses on at breakneck speeds. No wonder we get sad and grumpy; what we really want is a nap, or at the least to get our jammies on at 7 p.m. Embracing this reality has allowed me to adapt my winter lifestyle and I’m a whole lot more content with this most dreaded of seasons.

Wintertime now offers me an excuse to indulge my introversion and stay closer to home. I give myself permission to do less and suddenly, puttering in the kitchen, concocting warming curries and soups feels splendid and nourishing.

Knowing that the bears are hibernating, the trees and plants have gone dormant and the landscape is frozen, I feel this freedom to tap into the still and quiet that is out of my grasp at other times of the year.

In many northern places they claim there isn’t bad weather, just bad clothing. Rather than feeling shut in, I get out in nature and cross-country ski or walk my dog. One evening my husband and I took a moonlit walk in Lois Hole Park. It was beautiful, surreal and invigorating.

Scandinavians have had the corner on the ’appreciating winter’ market. Studies show their wellbeing during the dark winter months to be superior. They have many words that capture their positive attitude, one of which has now been adopted by North Americans. Hygge (pronounced HYOO-guh), is a Danish term loosely translated as a combination of cosiness, kinship, and conviviality. Soft lighting, candles, warm colours and nourishing food all have a place in making winter pleasant.

Many northern cities have implemented winter strategies: St Albert holds a Fire and Ice festival, while Edmonton hosts outdoor patios, winter cycling workshops, a Luminaria festival and a Santa shuffle.

If you still find yourself resistant to this mindset shift, I have one final thing to point out. In winter there are no mosquitoes!

Jill Cunningham grew up in St. Albert, has a Bachelor of Education from University of Alberta and is passionate about nature, the environment, and building community.