20 ways to get your hygge on and not be miserable this winter
Most people tend to have a favourite season. For some it’s the long sultry days of summer and for others it’s the crispness of autumn or the freshness of spring. Far fewer, though, are those who love winter the best.
Depending on where you live, winters can be mild or fierce, long or short. Here in Scotland, our mainly coastal landscape means winters are not too extreme – BUT being this far north (we’re on a similar latitude to Moscow, Copenhagen, Newfoundland and Alaska) means it is DARK. Average hours of winter daylight here are only 7 hours, and on gloomy days it feels like the darkness never lifts. I struggle with that, and come the end of January I am usually pretty desperate for some signs of spring. So I need to have small, easy things to help me get through the winter more easily – and more cheerfully.
How Not To Hate Winter
So, how can you enjoy winter when it’s cold and dark out there? We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the Danish notion of Hygge. Now much exported and used as the inspiration for a million Pinterest photos of fuzzy socks and hot chocolate, hygge is best described as a feeling rather than a physical concept. It’s a warm, cosy atmosphere, and enjoying the good things in life with others. Which sounds amazing – but how do you actually get it? What can you do on a practical level to get the cosy feeling and enjoy winter more?
How to Enjoy Winter (even when you hate it)
If you struggle with winter, here are some simple ways to life your mood and enjoy the season.
1. Get Outside Whenever You Can
I feel like I mention this in most of the posts I write, but it’s probably my favourite piece of advice. DO NOT STAY INDOORS ALL WINTER. I know it’s cold out there, but staying away from daylight and fresh air will not make you feel good. This is even more important if you’re working from home these days and have given up the daily commute that usually gets you out of the house.
Of course there will be wet, windy days when you don’t go out and that’s fine. But don’t stay in for days. My mental health takes a real dive when I don’t get outside for a while, so I make it a priority to get out most days, even for just a short time. Sometimes I have to force myself, but I never regret it.
So get out there for a walk, boost your mental health and get your vitamin D (another thing that’s more important than ever during the pandemic). But wrap up warm or you’ll be miserable, which leads me to the next point.
2. There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing
Obviously there totally is such a thing as bad weather. I’m looking at depressing grey sleet out the window right now – but the POINT is: you’ll always hate winter if you don’t invest in the right clothes. Proper clothes. Practical clothes.
I spent my 20s and 30s surviving winter in the most impractical clothing. Nary a weatherproof item nor a sensible piece of footwear ever darkened my door, but that was ok because I was rocking a trendy coat and killer boots. Then I had kids, moved to the suburbs, and entered middle-age, and so now I love all things cosy and waterproof. It will happen to you too.
Dressing Properly for Cold Weather
Base layers: Any kind of warm layer next to your skin will cosy you up, but for really cold days then fleece-lined thermals are your friend. I now wear thermals all winter and just like that, I’m not cold any more.
Socks: Put away your cotton socks for winter. Your toes will be far happier in some woollen socks, preferably thick hiking ones, or the lovely Scandinavian-style Nordic socks that I can’t get enough of.
An insulated waterproof coat: Invest in the best you can afford and you’ll hopefully be able to wear it for years.
Hats, gloves and scarves that are actually warm: Wool or fleece, and soft enough so that you don’t want to pull them off. For gloves, you’re best with insulated ones.
3. Write a list of things that are positive about winter
If you think this sounds like a cheesy, pointless activity, hear me out. Your mindset about winter is probably one of the biggest barriers you have to enjoying it. If you’re focused on the negative it can be hard to see the positive. This is certainly one of the issues I have to overcome every year, and a simple activity like this can really help. It can also help you to identify the practical things you can do to feel better about this time of year.
It doesn’t matter what’s on your list. My own list includes some really small things and usually looks something like this:
- Spending more time indoors and not feeling bad about “wasting” a sunny day
- Drinking hot chocolate regularly with no guilt
- Making a list of shows and movies I want to catch up on
- Watching those shows under a cosy blanket
- Gathering a pile of books I’ve been wanting to read
- Spending weekend afternoons baking treats and trying out new recipes
- Putting soft fuzzy winter sheets on the bed
- Getting some new scented candles / diffuser oils / twinkly lights for the dark nights at home
- Going for walks on crisp frosty ground after weeks of wading through the autumn mud
- Going to bed early because it’s so dark and getting more sleep
- Buying some expensive hand cream to stop the winter dry skin
- Not shaving my legs all the time
- Sweaters and cardigans that come all the way down to your thighs
- Boots, scarves, and, slippers, and fluffy socks!
- The whole Christmas season in general (I may hate winter but I LOVE Christmas)
- Putting bird feeders out in the garden and watching them with a cup of tea
- Weekend laziness in pyjamas
If you’re having a day where you’re struggling, pull out your list and it might just make you feel better or give you a new idea for cheering yourself up.
4. Improve your winter hot drink selection
Year round, I run on decaff tea made in oversized mugs. But there’s always room for something extra, especially in winter when we’re drinking more hot drinks than ever. My U.S. friends tell me that it’s quite unusual for American kitchens to have a kettle. Us Brits can’t compute the idea of heating water in a microwave or on the stove: here, a kettle is probably the most used appliance in our homes. “Put the kettle on” is basically a greeting in the UK.
If you’re bored of your existing hot drinks, try some flavoured teas, different coffee, or some more luxurious hot chocolate. It’s such a tiny improvement to your life, but having a selection to choose from and warm you up might be just what you need to feel better about the day.
5. Eat seasonally
It’s cold, dark and wet out there. This is not the weather for light summer food. A nice crisp green salad might be just the thing you’re craving some days, but for the most part try to nourish your body with warm, cosy recipes made from seasonal ingredients.
In the UK, seasonal food for this time of year includes vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, onion, parsnips, pumpkins, leeks, onions, swedes, and brussels sprouts. All of which are just perfect in soups and stews. Apples and pears are also in season this time of year, which are lovely in a crisp salad or turned into a crumble.
I really enjoy winter cooking – not just because of the food, but I love the cosy warmth of the kitchen in winter. Making soup with a podcast playing while the rain pelts the windows is one of my favourite winter pastimes.
6. Read books to make you feel good about winter
As well as eating and dressing seasonally, it can really help to read seasonally! There are so many winter novels you could settle down to, but what about a book that’s actually ABOUT winter, and that may even change how you feel about the cold months? Here are a couple of my favourites:
The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater
If Nigel Slater can’t make you appreciate winter, then nobody can. A true winter-phile, the way he writes about winter is so evocative and so enthusiastic that you can’t help reassessing your own viewpoint. It’s part-diary, part-recipe book, and a fantastic read that will take you from November to February. Great to keep out in the living room and dip into whenever you get a chance.
Merry Midwinter by Gillian Monks
A brilliant little book that will make you long for winters-gone-by. Starting at Halloween and heading through to Christmas, this ode to midwinter and how it has traditionally been celebrated is a refreshing change to the consumerism of modern Christmas. With lots of ideas for making your own decorations and old-fashioned recipes, it’s a little cornucopia of cosy winter inspiration.
7. Stay Connected With Friends and Family
We naturally see less of people in the winter as this time of year means more time spent indoors. But since COVID has led to us all staying at home soooooo much more, it’s even more important to try and see people when you can.
Where I live, we’ve only been allowed to meet people outdoors for months now, which was no problem in the summer. But as we’re now well into our current winter lockdown and everything is closed, I’m really missing being able to meet people in a warm, steamy coffee shop instead!
Staying connected is one of the pillars of mental health. So meet up for a walk, even in the freezing cold. Or stay home and video chat. If you’re feeling low and can’t handle any “live” interaction right now, try sending a text, email, or a card. Just do one small thing to reach out and it will likely help.
8. Give in to your desire to hibernate
It’s time to cast away all guilt about spending more time in hibernation mode. As the daylight hours shorten, our bodies’ natural response is to spend more time resting. Don’t fight it – do one of these:
- Go to bed early, preferably with a hot water bottle, a hot drink and a good book
- Curl up somewhere cosy and start an audiobook (or find an old-fashioned radio play – bliss!)
- Take a nap at the weekend and do not feel bad about it
- Add some shows and movies to your watchlist and binge away
9. Approach Winter Like a Child
Every year, I look out the window as the first snow falls and I sigh because I don’t love the snow. But then I see how delighted my kids are and remind myself to try and see what they see.
Try to approach winter like a child. Children do not tend to be seasonally affected. They also mostly love snow. They think ice is fun. And if they can’t get outside, they find great joy in being able to spend the day in their pyjamas, making a fort out of cushions and blankets. Be more child.
10. Do Some Winter Good Deeds
There is a theory that there’s no such thing as a selfless act, because good deeds make you feel better about yourself. But that doesn’t sound like a bad thing to me. Help yourself by helping others, I say. Look up a new charity and make a donation, volunteer, clear snow from a neighbour’s driveway, drop off items at the food bank, or offer to go shopping for an older person. If you can help someone else while feeling better about winter life, then win-win.
11. Plan Things To Look Forward To
I find this pretty easy in November and December, because I’m a big Christmas fan and I love Advent and all the build-up of the festive season. Come January and February though, and I find it more of a struggle.
My husband (really, really not a fan of the cold and dark months) deals with this time of year by planning out trips for the coming months. As I type he is planning trips for the Easter and summer school holidays – and we’re not even out of winter lockdown yet.
And if you really can’t think of anything, start a spring countdown. Cross off those days, Shawshank-style!
12. Cosy Up Your Home For Winter
This one is a must for enjoying winter more, and changing things up at home is pretty much guaranteed to cheer you up. Think of some simple changes you can make in each room:
Living Room: Get out the cosy blankets, throws, and furry cushions. Have more than one of each unless you want to spend the winter fighting over them.
Bedroom: If you feel the cold at night, then as well as putting on a thicker duvet or comforter, you should try brushed cotton or flannel sheets, or fleece “teddy bear” sheets.
Home Office: If you’re working from home and only using one room, keep it at a cosier temperature with a fire or extra heater.
Make sure you’re ventilating your home every day in winter to avoid musty air or any accumulation of damp. It’s also really important to ventilate daily if you’re a fan of using candles. And speaking of candles…
13. Improve your lighting
With all the darkness out there, use light to your advantage. You need two kinds of light in your home: work lighting and relaxation lighting.
Wherever you’re working (or cooking or doing other tasks) you want to have strong, bright sources of light. Look for “daylight” style bulbs.
When you want to relax then aim to make your rooms as inviting and cosy as possible with lower-level, warmer lighting. Twinkly lights are not just for Christmas! They can make a huge difference to a room. Candles (or battery-operated versions) are also essential to a cosy winter home.
If you suffer with low mood in winter, then try a lightbox designed to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or “the SAD lamp” as we call it in this house. My husband really benefits from using one of these every morning in the dark months. And as the person who lives with him, I can’t recommend it highly enough, lol. Definitely worth a try.
14. Adopt a Positive Winter Mindset (Or Spend Time with Someone who has one)
If you followed step 3 and wrote a list of things you enjoy about winter, that will make this much easier. Basically, be mindful of your attitude to winter and stop focusing on only the negative. It’ll only make you dislike it more. Instead, try turning things on their head. Make positives from those negatives.
Don’t think: “The time after Christmas is so empty. There’s still so much of winter left to go”
Do think: “After Christmas every day is getting longer. We’re in the second half of winter and soon enough it will start to get lighter and warmer.”
This does take practice. If you’re struggling with changing your mindset, try spending time with someone who enjoys winter and isn’t affected by it. Some of their positivity is bound to rub off on you.
15. Treat Yourself to Some Winter Luxuries
Try treating yourself to some little luxuries to help you enjoy winter more. Get that little dopamine boost in your brain by investing in some purchases, however small, to actively let you make the most of the winter months. Try some of these for starters:
- Thermal base layers for winter walks
- Wool socks – or cashmere socks if you want to splash out (the ultimate treat for your feet)
- Candles with winter scents like pine or spice
- Diffuser oils to help you feel relaxed or energised
- Hand cream for dry winter skin
- Luxurious hot chocolate mix
16. Do Not Underestimate The Soul-Soothing Power of Hot Water
Some days you get chilled to the bone while hunched over your laptop working. Some days you get soaked through on a rainy walk. And on these days, it feels like nothing will warm you up. No sweater or pair of thick socks is up to the task. But immerse yourself in hot water and the cold is magically gone – which is why it should be an essential part of your winter survival kit.
A hot bubble bath is the answer to many of life’s woes, so embrace it. Heat the bathroom, grab your fluffy towel and warm yourself up.
17. Make Something
The great thing about making things is the instant gratification factor. While you’re indoors more this winter, use the time to make something. It could be food or Christmas gifts, or maybe you want to start a little cottage industry.
Even if you think you don’t like crafting, give something a go. I am terrible at knitting and sewing, so I tend to avoid them – but I’m great at making fudge and baking. Do what brings you joy.
18. Gather round a bonfire or fire pit
There’s something about flames in the darkness. Humankind has always gathered round a fire, and it never loses any of its appeal. Lots of us put away our patio firepits in the winter, but try gathering round it on a cold, dark night. Roast some marshmallows or just enjoy watching the flames with a hot drink. It’s a great way to enjoy some fresh air after a long day when the daylight fades early.
19. Make Some To-Read / To-Watch / To-Listen Lists for Winter
I do love a list and usually have several on the go. But the dark depths of winter is perhaps not the time to write a long list of DIY jobs to do around the house. Instead, write a list you really want to tackle. Whether it’s a list just for you, or one you want to create as a family, try cataloguing all the movies, books, audiobooks, and even board games, that you want to try on all these long winter evenings.
20. Or – Create a Winter bucket List with The Kids
This is a great family activity. My kids love to write lists of seasonal activities. (I think they mostly enjoy adding wacky suggestions and seeing which I’ll say yes or no to….) Whether you want to go sledging or try out a new winter recipes, there are plenty of winter bucket lists out there for inspiration. Or follow my Winter Pinterest board.
I hope this post gives you some ideas for taking small steps towards enjoying winter a bit more. And even if you do still hate it, remember that this too shall pass: spring is coming!