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How Countries with the Shortest Days Beat Seasonal Depression

Scandinavian countries are home to some of the darkest winters, yet their citizens are often said to be the happiest in the world. How do they keep their spirits so high? Here, Scandinavian natives share insight into how they survive even the most brutal of winters.

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First and most importantly, get cozy

Among many well-known Scandinavian traditions is the Danish “hygge,” a term that means many things—but follows universal themes of comfort, warmth, and peace. These qualities are especially important to remember during the winter months. “Hygge is all about self-indulging. There is no hygge without something to eat or drink,” says Nadine Levy Redzepi, author of Downtime: Deliciousness at Home and wife to world-renowned Danish chef René Redzepi. “You want to cook something that fills your whole house with this hearty smell and elicits feelings of warmth and anticipation. When you step into your house, you’re hit with that emotion that comes through the smell.” Learn how to bring hygge into your home.

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Up your ambiance

“You make an effort with the little things—we light tons of candles in the house during the wintertime. We always have music on at home. Always,” Levy Redzepi says. Richard Tellström, Swedish historian and professor at Stockholm University, agrees. “You live your life indoors, but with a lot of light,” he says. Consider giving your home a full sweep to declutter, too. Organized homes are happy homes.

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Stay in (and indulge!)

“People don’t go out for dinner as much during the winter. They tend to stay home more,” Levy Redzepi says. “But it’s nice. You do something extra for yourself—buy a nice treat or a better chicken.” Done and done. Here are more ways to beat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

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Find ways to be active outdoors

“I take the kids out sledding whenever I can,” says Sven Ållebrand, a Swedish native who currently lives with his family in upstate New York. “When you get older, you spend more time indoors and you get a little depressed. I rediscovered the joy of being outside—because the more activities you can do, the happier and healthier you are. Skating, skiing, hiking… even just playing with the kids in the backyard.” Here are a few other snowy day activities to try with your family.

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Think of the snow as a source of light

“I like to take winter hikes, too,” Ållebrand says. “I’ll go out into the woods and take a walk or a run when it’s not icy, just to get out there and enjoy the daylight. Growing up, I learned to know that whenever it’s snowing out, it’s always light.”

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Practice optimism

“The Scandinavian approach to finding the best in every situation is very important to us. People aren’t pessimistic,” Levy Redzepi says. “Yes, it’s cold outside, but we’re going to make it super nice and cozy and warm inside. Without the cold, we won’t appreciate the summer or spring. So we sit back and enjoy this time.” Here are ways to be optimistic every day.

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Cook for others

“When you cook something, you accomplish something. It’s very giving in another way. It’s very satisfying to cook something and put it on the table for my family, my friends and myself—it makes me feel good,” Levy Redzepi says. Pressed for time? Read up on these brilliant kitchen shortcuts you’ll wish you knew sooner.

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Be social

If the Danish “hygge” is about warmth and coziness, the Swedish “fika”—a term used to describe the time Swedes take to drink their coffee alongside close friends or colleagues—reminds us these feelings are best when shared with those we love. “The fika is not an occasion to talk about work. It’s a time to talk about what you did during the week—how your husband is doing or what your plans are for the weekend,” Tellström says. “When it’s dark outside, we see it as a good occasion to do things together indoors. Being social is what makes all of us happy, wherever we live on this earth. It doesn’t matter if you live in a country where you have sunshine 24 hours per day. Sunshine doesn’t make you happy. People do. And we believe that.”

Lauren Bettenga
Lauren Bettenga is an assistant account executive at Minneapolis and NYC-based public relations firm Spotlight Media Relations. When she isn't in the office, Lauren's passion for storytelling keeps her busy with freelance reporting projects. She is an avid runner and loves to spend any and every free moment with her treasured close friends and family. Lauren is a graduate of the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism & Mass Communication and New York University Summer Publishing Institute.