The holidays are behind us. We spent our time gathering with loved ones, sharing meals, exchanging gifts, baking and gifting cookies, and indulging in all the feel-good festivities that make the season bright. As we approach the rest of the winter season, we can continue to create ambiance and warmth while making a conscious effort to usher in some more light. Many cultures around the globe found rituals to get them through a dark season or enhance their wellbeing. Here are a few ideas to get your 2023 off to a great start.
Embrace the concept of “hygge.” Within the last few years, even those without any connections to Danish culture have probably heard about hygge. Pronounced “hooga,” it’s a lifestyle trend that hails from Denmark – the country that consistently nabs a top spot in the World Happiness Report rankings, which are based largely on life evaluations from the Gallup World Poll. In 2022, Denmark landed in the No. 2 spot, followed by Iceland at No. 3.
In The Scandinavian Guide to Happiness, Tim Rayborn said, “Hygge is not really translatable into one word or idea. It’s something that’s felt rather than understood exactly and it will mean different things to different people. It’s about reveling in the cozy, the familiar, and the safe, about having a personal space to retreat to and cocoon – or having a few friends over for a great evening of good times and good company. It’s about having a drink that you love at hand while you read a cherished book on the couch. It’s about drinking wine with your partner while watching your favorite movie. It’s about hearing a raging storm outside while sitting in front of a fire, as your favorite music plays in the background. It’s about candles glowing and soft lights illuminating your home.”
The Oxford Languages dictionary defines hygge as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or wellbeing (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture). It’s about “togetherness and coziness.” Various definitions of hygge can be traced back to the Middle Ages. A similar Old Norse word meant “protected from the outside world.”
As we know, winters in Denmark are long, cold, and dark, so January and February are ideal for embracing the hygge lifestyle. The concept reflects the values of Danish society: equality and wellbeing for all. It’s time to make a conscious effort to spend more time together indoors with a partner, friends, and family. This time of year is also ideal for hygge décor, which includes cozy blankets, twinkling lights, lots of candles, and other ways of creating warmth and light. Invite people over for a hygge evening at your place. Make hot chocolate or your favorite libation, share some bites, engage is discussion, play games – whatever you wish.
And here’s a local connection: on a damp winter day, you can invite a few friends over to Tousey Winery in Germantown, NY. Spend a few hours unwinding together with a glass of Hygge. This classic sauvignon blanc features the flavors of tropical fruits and grapefruit. It was inspired by Tousey’s Kimberly Tousey who spent many years living in Denmark and embracing her Danish heritage.
In Sweden, another Scandinavian country that also continually lands at the top of the World Happiness Report rankings, there’s the concept of “fika.” Rayborn of The Scandinavian Guide to Happiness, also addressed this lifestyle idea in his book.
Rayborn said, “Fika is a simple word that means something like ‘coffee break.’ But it doesn’t have a good translation, and fika is much more than that. It’s a whole component of Swedish society, but the idea behind it is simply that we should set aside time for a daily break, and enjoy the good things in life.”
The word fika is actually slang for “coffee.” Kaffi, the Swedish word for coffee was inverted to “ffika,” and then evolved to fika.
Rayborn explained that rather than being a 15-minute break in the workday, as it is in some cultures, or being used as “fuel” as it is in America, fika is a state of mind.
“Instead of giving you a boost to speed things up, it’s all about slowing things down for a while and taking the time to savor a great cup of coffee (or whatever beverage you prefer) along with some sweet treats: pastry, cakes, cookies, cinnamon buns, sandwiches, whatever takes your fancy. It’s said that people in Sweden are among the main consumers of coffees and cakes in the world, along with Finland. It’s estimated that Swedes consume around 18 pounds of coffee beans each year! Fika is no doubt a big part of the reason.” Simply put, it’s time for unplugging and slowing down.
Head over to Bread Alone Bakery in Rhinebeck (45 E. Market St.) or to Rough Draft Bar & Books in Kingston (82 John St.) for local fika spots. Other great destinations to “fika” (yes, it can be used as a verb) include All That Java in Tivoli. It is located inside Hotel Tivoli (53 Broadway). The coffee shop also boasts locations in Millerton, Kingston, and Rhinebeck. The Berkshire region also has a great destination for the art of fika. Visit twoflower Great Barrington (34 Railroad St.).
“Fredagsmys” (pronounced frey-dags-mees) is a weekly Swedish ritual, which translates to “Friday coziness.” Johnaé De Felicis wrote about this concept for Blue Zones – regions of the world that have the longest life expectancy, disability-free life expectancy, or concentration of people over 100 years old.
De Felicis said, “The Swedish work ethic is one like no other. Swedes take their jobs very seriously. It’s not in their nature to dilly-dally around on the clock. Instead, they reserve playtime for Friday evenings. After a hard week’s work, it’s Swedish tradition to unwind at home every Friday night. Swedes call it ‘fredagsmys,’ which means ‘Friday coziness.’ They use this time to relax with family and friends. A typical fredagsmys includes games, TV time, and plenty of snacks.”
According to the BBC, “Instead of staying late at the office, or going out for drinks with colleagues, fredagsmys is about embracing a softer end to the working week, by heading home early to enjoy a feel-good, no-frills meal, followed by crisps or sweets on the sofa. Families usually watch TV or a movie together, with blankets and candles brought in as essential accessories during the long, dark winter.” The weekly ritual marks a symbolic change from the work week to the weekend. It also helps people focus on work-life balance.
There are lots of innovative ways to embrace this concept. Invite some friends over for a movie or game night. Be sure to create ambiance and embellish your space by lighting candles and throwing some cozy blankets around.
Moving over to Japan, we have the concept of “wabi sabi” (pronounced “wah-bi sah-bi”). It’s about appreciating the beauty of imperfections. Rather than discarding “damaged” objects, wabi sabi is about embracing imperfections and celebrating the worn or cracked. Although wabi sabi could relate to the crack in a piece of pottery, it also relates to the simplicity of the movements used to make and serve tea. It’s about efficiency rather than extravagance.
In fact, the concept’s roots are traced back to the early tea ceremonies of Japan. The aesthetic philosophy, wabi refers to modest circumstances while sabi refers to internal quiet and peace.
In The Little Book of Japanese Living, Yutaka Yazawa said, “Wabi sabi remains the cornerstone of the Japanese aesthetic. We continue to seek private, happiness and contentment in modesty and quietness, which are, with a little effort, available to all, not just a rich and powerful.”
Author Beth Kempton also addressed this concept in her recent book, Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life. She says “Wabi Sabi teaches people how to let go of perfect and embrace the gifts of a simple life so you can find happiness right where you are.” So, what’s this concept about?
According to Kempton, “Wabi sabi offers a whole new way of looking at the world – and your life – inspired by centuries-old Japanese wisdom. Wabi sabi is a captivating concept from Japanese aesthetics, which helps us to see beauty in imperfection, appreciate simplicity, and accept the transient nature of all things. With roots in Zen and the Way of Tea, the timeless wisdom of wabi sabi is more relevant than ever for modern life, as we search for new ways to approach life’s challenges and seek meaning beyond materialism. From honoring the rhythm of the seasons to creating a welcoming home, from reframing failure to aging with grace, wabi sabi will teach you to find more joy and inspiration throughout your perfectly imperfect life.
This Japanese term literally means “forest bathing.” In recent years, people worldwide have embraced this feel-good concept, which originally hails from Japan. The practice encourages people to simply spend time in nature – no actual bathing is required. Also known as nature therapy and ecotherapy, forest bathing describes a broad group of techniques or treatments that harness the serenity of nature to boost mental or physical health.
Brooke Mellen, founder of Cultured Forest – a New York City-based business sheds some light on this practice. “Shinrin-Yoku is a wellbeing practice that translates to ‘Taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing,’” says Mellen. The term, which dates back to 1982, was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries.
Mellen explains that forest bathing was developed in response to a public health crisis, which involved high burnout rates in Japan’s densely populated cities such as Tokyo. As a result, the Japanese government invested millions of dollars in investigating the health benefits that emerge from spending some time in nature. Mellen offers forest bathing events in the Hudson Valley. For announcements, join her email list at culturedforest.com.
For more on these lifestyle concepts, these books can be ordered via Oblong Books in Rhinebeck or Millerton, NY. Although the books were out of stock at press time, they can be ordered via Oblong’s website using the links below.
The Scandinavian Guide to Happiness by Tim Rayborn is available at https://www.oblongbooks.com/book/9781951511210; Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life by Beth Kempton is available at https://www.oblongbooks.com/book/9780062905154; and The Little Book of Japanese Living by Yutaka Yazawa is available at