February is here and even though is the shortest month of the year, it can feel like the longest. The holidays are long gone and spring still seems oh-so far away. The fact that we are in the midst of a world-wide pandemic does not help.
One way to put a positive spin on February is to think of it as the last month of the year to do all those hygge (pronounced “hoo-gah”) things that while trendy, are also deeply comforting. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, here is a definition:
“hygge: a Danish concept of a complete absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming: taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things such as good food and wine with your favorite people”
“acknowledging a feeling or moment whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cozy, charming, or special.”
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I propose that in this month, this unlike-any-other-February-ever month, you embrace the concept of hygge fully. Don’t just give it a passing glance, or even a high-five. Invite it into your home and your classroom. Wrap Hygge around you like a big, cozy blanket. Make Hygge your BFF (or at least for the next month or so) during these cold and sometimes lonely days of winter.
Hygge at Home
There are so many ways to bring hygge into your home. Get in the habit of asking yourself: How can I make this space cozier, warmer, or calmer? What could I add? What could I take away? What would make me feel better right now?
Consider all the senses
Hygge is essentially a feeling. In addition to what you see, sounds, tastes, textures, and smells all contribute to how you feel in any given moment. Try some of these ideas for engaging all your senses:
- Dim the lights or get lamps that soften the light. Light some candles.
- Play calming music or nature sounds.
- Use essential oils, scented candles, or best of all, bake bread or cookies, to make your house smell good.
- Decorate with soft textures and colors. Consider throw pillows, area rugs, and afghans.
- Bring nature inside with a few house plants (If you have a history of killing house plants, don’t despair. Snake plants are nearly impossible to kill. Even if you put it in a dark corner and forget to water it for a month, it will still thrive).
- Wear fluffy sweaters and warm socks or slippers. Given the current situation, I’m guessing you’ve got that one mastered.
- Eat hearty and nourishing foods. Now is a good time for your favorite soups and stews.
Clear the Clutter, but not too Much
Vast amounts of empty space can feel sterile and cold. While a table piled with junk mail is not at all calming, leaving a half-done jigsaw puzzle on the table feels relaxing and inviting. Kids’ toys scattered all over the floor, scores zero hygge points. But a few here and there won’t hurt and framed pictures of your kids, strategically placed, are a definite plus.
When thinking about sentimental objects you decide to keep in your home, Julianna Poplin, professional declutterer, emphasizes the importance of scaling down, “When you are very selective, the items that you keep are much more meaningful. If you keep everything, then nothing is important. Picking just a few items that have great meaning to you means they get to shine and aren’t lost in the mess of all of the other things.”
Don't Forget about the Fireplace
There is something uniquely comforting about a fire. Perhaps it is deeply ingrained in our DNA from prehistoric times when having fire could be the difference between life and death. Whether you love the crackling of a real fire or the convenience of a gas fireplace, if you have a way to make a fire, use it!
If you don’t have a fireplace you can buy an electric one that plugs into the wall. It’s really just a glorified space heater, but the illusion of a fire is close enough to the real thing that it will give you that cozy, sitting in front o the fire feeling. I had one for years when I lived in a small house and I used it all winter long.
If an electric fire isn’t your cup of tea, you can always stream a crackling fire on your TV or computer. There are fireplace videos on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.
Another alternative (or addition) to the fireplace is to create a cozy reading nook or corner. All your really need is a comfy chair, a side table for your favorite beverage or snack, and good lighting. Bonus points for a comfy throw.
Hygge Your Brain
While creating a calming environment is a great start, the goal is to create the feeling of hygge. Every feeling starts with a thought, so bringing hygge to your brain makes. sense. Practicing hygge is a great way to dust off some of those self-care basics:
Focus on one thing at a time and experience it fully. This can be challenging when you are super busy, or if you (like me) have the attention span of a goldfish.
Have you ever taken your last bite of a delicious dinner or snack only to realize that you hardly even tasted it because you were also working or watching TV? Try eating a meal or even just a few bites of a meal without distractions. Focus on how your food smells, the textures, and of course, how it tastes.
Not multi-tasking is especially important when you are around other people. Give the people you are with the gift of your full attention. Those special moments of connection only happen when we are fully engaged. When you look back on happy memories years from now, times when everyone was staring at their phones probably won’t make the cut. It doesn’t make the hygge cut either.
Put the phone or the laptop down when you are watching a movie. If you feel the need for a further distraction than what is in front of you, you might want to reconsider what is in front of you. Can you do something to make things more interesting? Maybe you could watch a different movie or change the topic of conversation.
Minimize Thing that Stress You Out
Often, we do things out of habit even when they no longer serve us. What can you change or even lose completely that would make your life less stressful?
Do you really have to watch the news every night? Can you get a meal delivered once or twice a week instead of cooking? Can you take less work (or ideally no work) home? Does scrolling Facebook actually make you happy?
A few weeks ago, I realized that Facebook was making me feel stressed and anxious. I wasn’t ready to give it up completely, so I decided to take a different approach. I significantly changed my feed. I got rid of the people, groups, and pages that stressed me out and added things that make me happy or add to my life in a positive way.
Turns out, there is a Facebook group for everything! In addition to posts from my friends and family, my feed is now full of pictures of house plants, Aerogardens (my newest hobby), painted rocks, Little Free Libraries, adorable rat terriers, crochet projects, book discussions and recommendations, thoughts from some of my favorite authors, and Strange Planet comics.
The unexpected and welcome result is that while my feed has become significantly more pleasant, it has also become less compelling. I think this is because, as humans, are wired to look for excitement and bad news. With none of that available for my doom-scrolling brain to feast on, I am spending much less time on Facebook.
Consider a Calming Project
A few days ago, I started crocheting a cozy throw for our couch. It is almost big enough to wrap myself up a bit with the part I have finished. I am honestly surprised at how much joy this project is bringing me. The colors are soothing, the yarn is thick and soft.
There is a quiet satisfaction in seeing the throw grow with each new row. I chose an easy pattern (akin to my skill-level, which is minimal), so the stitches are repetitive. I usually crochet while watching TV or listening to a podcast, but lately, I have been crocheting in silence, and it has been restorative.
Consider a calming project of your own. Pick up your knitting needles, crochet hook, colored pencils, or any other soothing, repetitive activity. This kind of activity is great for people who feel like they always need to be doing something productive. Because you actually are doing something, your brain won’t keep pestering you about wasting time. Because the thing you are doing does not take all your mental energy, your mind is free to wander…to process unresolved issues, to daydream, to come up with new ideas, or just space out.
Leave Work at Work
Quit at as reasonable a time as you can. Try to let go of all the work stuff so you can focus on yourself and your family. If you are feeling so overwhelmed with work that neither of these are possible, please read this post.
Here is a quick mental trick that can help: Spend a moment visualizing a big box in your mind. Open the lid and put school and everything related to it into the box. Close the lid. It’s safe in there, everyone, and everything will be fine until you open the box tomorrow morning. You don’t need to spend any emotional or mental energy on that stuff tonight.
Hygge Your Classroom
There is no reason you can’t bring some of these ideas to your classroom. Even if your classroom is on Zoom, you can still implement some of these suggestions to bring a little calming hygge to your students.
One of the easiest things you can do is to dim the lights when bright light isn’t needed. Consider getting some of those battery-operated candles (the flickering ones are especially appealing). Or if you are super ambitious, string some white fairy lights.
Add a few potted plants to your room. On a special Friday, consider allowing students to bring slippers (or just socks) to wear or maybe their favorite plush toys.
Make popcorn as a special treat. Play soft music. Consider an art/craft project involving yarn. Or just spend some time coloring hearts.
Whatever you can do to bring even a little hygge to your students will most likely result in a happier and more relaxed classroom.
Want to learn more about hygge? Check out The Little Book of Hygge.
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