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3 cultural traditions, philosophies that can help combat winter blues

By Rachelle Gaynor, Staff Writer
April 21, 2016, 3:10:11 AM EDT

Winter tends to bring feelings of fatigue and, at times, depression to people around the world, making it harder to feel motivated and energetic. However, these cultural traditions offer creative ways to beat the winter blues and remain optimistic when it feels like winter is dragging on.

1. Hygge- Denmark

"The essence of 'hygge' is to surround yourself in a warm, cozy atmosphere with people you care about and enjoy something you love," Tai Højer Klan, online manager at VisitDenmark, said.

Activities that would fit into the hygee mentality would be cuddling up with a blanket by the fire, drinking some coffee or wine with friends, watching a favorite movie while indulging in your favorite sweets or lighting candles and preparing a home-cooked meal.

"The term 'hygge' is all about the feeling you have when you are surrounded by loved ones and indulging in something you enjoy like sweets, board games, movies, music, food, etc.," Klan said.


This feeling of relaxation and companionship encourages people to get together more frequently, and the increased interaction can significantly help ward off feelings of sadness and fatigue during the winter months.

"Maintaining this attitude year-round appears to help the Danes focus their attention and energy toward appreciating what you have and sharing that feeling with others," Dr. Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said.

According to Rego, this philosophy is more easily adopted in places like Denmark as opposed to the United States because of the fundamental differences in the two cultures.

"The only question is whether people here are willing and able to embrace it, as we tend to be more individualistic and pragmatic here in the U.S.," Rego said.

Another reason that hygge might have grown in Denmark while other countries like the United States only see this type of philosophy during holidays is that it is more common in the Danish culture to invite people over to your house for meals as opposed to eating out.

"When you invite people over for dinner, you usually make an effort to create a cozy and hyggelig atmosphere," Klan said.

2. Friluftsliv- Norway and Sweden

The word Friluftsliv can be translated to mean "free air life" and is a philosophy that permeates Norway and Sweden.

"Friluftsliv can be regarded both as an activity and a philosophy to be back 'home' in nature, not as a tourist gazing at nature, but as returning home and trying to reconnect to nature and the landscape," Hans Gelter, associate professor at Luleå University of Technology, said. "It is trying to be interconnected with the more-than-human world."

Whereas hygge helps people feel connected to each other, Friluftsliv helps people feel a connection with nature, which can help them adopt a more positive attitude toward winter because they feel more at ease with the elements.

It is easy to feel connected to nature in places like Norway and Sweden that have laws like "Allemansrätten" that allow everyone access to the land, even private property, according to Gelter. This may be one reason that this philosophy is not seen frequently in countries such as the United States.

This spiritual connection to nature is possible for everyone because of the way the human brain evolved in nature where things happen fluidly, randomly and organically, according to Gelter. Therefore, it makes sense that human minds would respond positively and be more satisfied watching waves roll in or the flames of a fire as opposed to looking at more stagnant images like a building.

"As our brain is developed to interact with this organic and fractal world of nature, my theory is that the simplistic geometrical world we have created 'under-stimulates' our brain and creates a mental stress," Klan said.

According to Klan, studies have shown that people who regularly celebrate Friluftsliv are more happy and feel satisfied with their lives.

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3. Yalda- Iran Another way to change your attitude about winter is to interpret winter as a positive rather than a negative. That is exactly what people in Iran, as well as other Central Asian countries, do when they celebrate Yalda night.

"On Yalda festival, Iranians celebrate the arrival of winter, the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness," Firouzeh Mirrazavi, deputy editor of Iran Review, said.

Yalda, which means birth, occurs on the longest night of the year that leads into winter and focuses on the fact that there will be more sunlight in the future.

"This day marks the victory of the sun over darkness," Mirrazavi said.

While light is literally defeating darkness, this festival also serves as a metaphor for good defeating evil. Therefore, winter is considered a time to celebrate, which they do in Iran by staying awake all night with friends and family, reading mythology and poetry and eating foods such as watermelon, dried nuts and pomegranates.


By looking at winter as one step closer to spring and lightness, as opposed to a time of darkness and cold, people are able to remain optimistic about the future and are motivated to take steps toward making their futures bright.

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