Nicola Baxter, Psychological Coach at AXA Health

How to get a hygge mindset and feel good this winter

5 January 2021

Keeping a positive mindset throughout the winter months can be difficult, however there’s a lot we can learn from our European neighbours to help boost our mental wellbeing.(1) Despite having darker and colder winters, many northern European country residents experience positive emotions, life satisfaction and positive wellbeing during this time; something they describe as hygge. 

Pronounced hoo-ga, it’s the Danish word for a mood of contentment and wellbeing. Here AXA Health Psychological Coach, Nicola Baxter shares her top tips for getting a hygge mindset and feeling good this winter.

What is hygge?

The word itself can be defined in different ways, but essentially it describes a feeling of love, safety and contentment. In the UK, the winter months are not received as kindly by some as the longer, warmer days of summer and spring. In short, many of us have a negative mindset around winter. However, Meik Wiking, author of ‘The Little Book of Hygge’, suggests that in Danish culture the darkest and coldest nights give the best feelings of hygge, and the Danes feel excited for the winter months.(2)

Health Psychologist Kari Leibowitz completed a study to understand why Scandinavian countries are famed for being some of the happiest in the world, reporting the best sense of wellbeing for their inhabitants. Leibowitz created a ‘Winter Mindset Scale’ to measure wellbeing in winter, asking participants whether they agreed with statements such as:

  • I love the cosiness of the winter months
  • Winter brings many wonderful seasonal changes
  • Winter is boring
  • Winter is a limiting time of year.

The participants of the study lived in areas in Norway and the Arctic Islands, where daily sunlight was minimal, and the temperatures were often subzero Celsius! The results suggested that there was a high rate of winter wellbeing within the test group, concluding that mindset had been a largely overlooked factor in how people respond to winter.(3)

How hygge can help boost our feelgood factor, especially during the winter months

The hygge mindset it is about looking for the best in situations to foster our own sense of wellbeing. Do we see a dark night that is too cold to go out, or the chance to wrap up warm and see the skyline in the still of the evening?  When we can see the opportunity in a situation, it helps us to feel more comfort and happiness in that moment, our own hygge way of looking at things!(4) 

The really good news is that if we consciously choose to see the positives in each situation, this will become our default setting over time. A change in how we perceive things can actually change how we experience them, in turn reinforcing our more positive mindset and outlook.(5)

How to create a hygge mindset 

Reflect on your winter. Take some time to consider the positives. What do you have to be grateful for? What changes in winter to enable you to do different activities, experience new things or take part in traditions? 

Connect with others. Staying connected in whatever ways we can improves our wellbeing. It can be easy for some of us to go into hibernation over the winter months but if you can fight that urge and reach out to family and friends, the effort will be worth it.

Stay active. This keeps us healthy and improves our mental health, so try a home workout, visit the gym or wrap up warm and go out for a walk to really blow away the cobwebs and get a daily dose of vitamin D.

Eat well. Eating a balanced diet helps us to feel good and stay healthy and there’s nothing quite as comforting as a hearty stew or some home-made soup. Celebrate the feelgood foods that don’t really work during the summer months.

Get cosy. Adapting your environment can help you find your hygge. Rumoured as one of the largest consumers of candles per capita in the world, Denmark and other Scandinavian countries have embraced the power of the warming glow of candlelight. Add some soft and inviting cushions and throws into the mix and you can create the perfect setting to relax, reflect, unwind and find that feeling of comfort and wellbeing that our near neighbours have been enjoying for centuries.

Have fun! Having fun in the winter creates the best feeling of hygge! Take a look at our Feelgood Health hub for more inspiration to help you boost your wellbeing in a way that suits you.

Top Tips

  • Get outdoors as much as possible, wrap up and explore the changes in the season.
  • Challenge yourself to see the positives in situations. Take time to focus on these.
  • Keep a routine. This can be more challenging in the winter, but will help to keep structure in your day and improve wellbeing.

It’s important to remember that having a ‘hygge’ or positive mindset doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen, or we don’t feel badly about them. It’s about choosing to find positives or learning experiences in situations that promote our wellbeing.

References 

1. Leibowitz, K., & Vittersø, J. (2020). Winter is coming: Wintertime mindset and wellbeing in Norway. International Journal of Wellbeing, 10 (4), 35-54. https://doi.org/10.5502/ijw.v10i4.935

2. Wiking, M. The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living (Happiness Institute). (USA: Harper Collins, 2017).

3. Crum, A. J., Leibowitz, K. A., & Verghese, A. (2017). Making mindset matter.  BMJ: British Medical Journal (Online), 356. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j674

4. Crum, A. J., Salovey, P., & Achor, S. (2013) Rethinking stress: The role of mindsets in determining the stress response. Journal of personality and social psychology, 104 (4), 716-733. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j67

5. Feddersen, J., Metcalfe, R., & Wooden, M. (2016). Subjective wellbeing: why weather matters. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society), 179 (1), 203-228. https://doi.org/10.1111/rssa.12118

Sources

www.nhs.co.uk 

Further articles to boost your Feelgood health

Steps to becoming active – your way - AXA Health

The mental health benefits of spending time in nature - AXA Health

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