Photo credit flickr/Julian Fong
In the first few weeks of December, I do a lot of speed-walking around big-box stores, grabbing up cute stockings and wrapping paper and random little Christmas gifts I’ll misplace and forget to give. But after tripping and tearing a ligament in my ankle and having to wear a stiff Storm Trooper boot strapped on it for 4 weeks, I’ve been sentenced to given the opportunity of a month reflecting on the benefits of a slower pace. And with freezing weather and a chronic illness, even the mobile bootless among us might benefit from putting on the brakes for a minute.
Americans aren’t exactly known for taking it easy during the holiday season, hence the rise of Black Friday and Martha Stewart. But fortunately, the country of Denmark – one of the happiest countries in the world, according to the United Nations World Happiness Report – has lots of practice at actually enjoying months of windshield-scraping, respiratory infections, and relatives.
Danish culture actually has a special word for this – “hygge” (roughly pronounced HYOO-gah). Hygge has no direct English translation, but in general it refers to a state of mind or being that includes coziness, closeness with loved ones, familiarity, refuge, and warmth. And while it’s big at Christmastime, it’s a year-round concept.
Curling up under a quilt with your dog to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas would certainly be hygge; throw in some hot chocolate and warm sugar cookies and your hygge meter maxes out. But even just a house, piece of clothing, or person on its own can embody hygge (think of a log cabin, a wool sweater, or Wilford Brimley). Hygge is about noticing and taking comfort in the multiple upsides of having to slow your pace and hunker down. And since stress and lack of sleep are frequently cited as possible flare triggers for many IBD patients – myself oh so very much included – it seems like creating personal Little Denmarks for ourselves couldn’t hurt at any time of year.
How to give yourself a hygge
Hygge at home. For an easy introduction to hygge, put on your favorite warm pajamas and slippers as soon as you’re home from work. Have dinner delivered and watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas for the millionth time (make sure to order some “roast beast”). On a weekend, take a nap in the middle of the afternoon, then sip tea while wearing cozy socks and watching Friends reruns.
Hygge outside. Drive through your neighborhood at night to look at everyone’s Christmas lights. If it snows, by all means, go sledding or build a snowman, then warm your feet by a fire (or a heat vent, or under your dog).
Hygge with others. Hygge doesn’t mean you can’t still be social – it just doesn’t require that you go out in the cold for it (and so you get to stay close to your own nice, clean bathroom). Serve your guests crock-pot apple cider and cookies hot out of the oven, while you play classic board games or cards.
Hygge at work. You can still have hot chocolate or chai, hot breakfast cereal, and a cozy blanket at work. Look at a GIF of a crackling fire if that helps, or set your desktop image to a photo of a snowy log cabin or flickering fireplace. And if you’re legitimately sick and have the sick days, by all means, stay home. Sick days aren’t just for contagious people, so IBD malaise counts. You’ll recover from any ailment faster with the help of an afternoon nap and watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with your dog, December or not.
Author Katie McLendon is a CCFA support group facilitator in Atlanta who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2005. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist with a Master of Public Health degree from Emory University, and works as an editor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Follow Katie on Twitter: @katiefmclendon