Episode 28: The Science of Springtime Hygge

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Here in the US when we think about Hygge, we usually think about cozying up with blankets next to the fire, but hygge can be a part of our lives all year round.  In this episode, I discuss the ways that we can bring some hygge into our lives this Spring, and why hygge is scientifically a good thing.

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Transcript

Welcome to Hang Your Hat.  This is episode 28.  The science of Springtime Hygge.

Hygge is an integral part of Danish living that is difficult to translate into English.  The concept encompasses many of the pleasures of everyday life, like spending time with friends or family, curling up with a good book, and enjoying good food by candlelight.  It is the feeling of being comfortable, at ease, and enjoying the moment.

If you have ever come home and took a moment to enjoy being in your own space, or walked into a coffee shop and felt unaccountably comfortable, then you have experienced Hygge.  It is sitting in your favorite chair and enjoying a cup of coffee, enjoying the warmth of the sun on your bare skin, and spending time with friends late into the night because you didn’t notice the time pass.

There is no English equivalent to Hygge the concept encompasses happiness, comfort, simplicity, kinship, and contentedness.  Here in the US,  Hygge is often translated as coziness, and I think that is why I think it is so often associated with winter here.  After all, what is cozier than cuddling under a blanket next to the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa while wearing some hand knit wool socks - in my opinion, nothing.  

It is this image of coziness that makes Hygge nearly irresistible in the winter.  If you noticed pictures of chunky knit blankets, candles, books, and large cups of coffee in your Instagram feed this winter and thought - I need to buy a candle next time I am at Target, then you know what I mean.  But here in Florida, where I live, we have cozy by the fireplace weather for about an hour and a half in January once a year.  The rest of the year, when the temperature is over 80 degrees and the humidity is nearing 100%, Heavy blankets and roaring fires seem much less appealing.  After sweating under some cozy blankets and swapping hot coffee for the iced variety this February I started wondering if this Hygge thing was really for me, or if I just lived too close to the equator for Hygge to work for me.

Then I came to an important, and obvious realization - Denmark isn’t always cold, they too have seasons, and Hygge is a part of Danish life all year, so, surely there must be some warm weather equivalent of blanket cuddling that doesn’t involve heat stroke.  

On today’s episode of Hang Your Hat I am exploring the ways that we can maintain the sense of Hygge even as the mercury rises, and why, scientifically, a Hygge home is a happy one.

 

After a long cold dreary winter, full of heavy blankets, thick curtains, and oppressive darkness, springtime is like a breath of fresh air, and enjoying the simple luxuries afforded by the change of the season is what Hygge is all about.

In the winter, creating a sense of Hygge in the home is all about creating a cozy cocoon into which we can retreat from the cold, but in the Spring the outside world is no longer something that we need to retreat from.  As the weather warms, take the time to enjoy the outdoors by bringing them inside.

Open the windows wide and let the fresh outdoor air in.  Not only is it a luxury to have a fresh breeze running through the house, unless you live in a really polluted area, it will probably improve your indoor air quality.  

Homes tend to be pretty airtight to protect against heat loss in the winter.  While that is great for your energy bill, it is not so great for your indoor air quality.  

During the winter we bring a lot of things into our home and do a lot of things into our homes that are bad for air quality,  like cozying up to a nice roaring fire and lighting a bunch of candles.   Unfortunately, the fireplace flue is unlikely to rid our homes of all the smoke produced by indoor fires.  The heating systems themselves can also add to indoor air pollution depending on the type - any that are relying on combustion to create heat are not going to be doing your air quality any favors.

Winter is also when we are likely to bring in decorations from the garage, attic, or basement, where it has been collecting dust and mold spores all year - also not great for indoor air quality.  

Even the furniture and textiles we buy so that our homes look great when we welcome friends and family for the holidays is libel to outgas chemicals that our lungs could do without.  

Opening the windows gives all of those pollutants an opportunity to escape, leaving the air inside cleaner.  So throw open the windows and enjoy a lungful of that sweet fresh air.

Plants are another great way to bring the outdoors inside, and they also clean indoor air.  

We are probably all familiar with a plants ability to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, but they can also clean the air in at least two other ways.  Like carbon dioxide plants can metabolize some toxins and release harmless byproducts.  They can also absorb toxins into their tissues sequestering them so they are no longer free in the environment.  We know this because in 1989 NASA did a study on the impacts that plants had on indoor air quality.   They were interested because the air quality in spaces with low indoor-outdoor air exchange - like space vessels - gets pretty bad pretty fast.  If NASA wanted to do long-term space habitation, they needed to find a solution.

Throughout several studies plants were found to be surprisingly good at removing toxins like benzene, formaldehyde, and other volatile organic compounds.  Some of the plants that were found to be great at filtering air were already popular house plants, like Dracaena, English Ivy, and Snake Plant (also known as Sansevieria).  My favorite houseplant, pothos (also known as Devil’s Ivy) was also on the list.  Pothos is a wonderful houseplant because it requires very little light and even less care to thrive.  I currently have a neon variety growing quite happily in my windowless bathroom.

Plants may also offer psychological benefits.  Numerous scientific studies have shown that indoor plants are positively associated with a variety of beneficial psychological outcomes, such as reduced stress, improvements in reaction time and attentiveness, and increased productivity.  They were even associated with a reduction in the amount of perceived pain.  

Before you throughout all of your anxiety and pain medication in favor of houseplants, keep in mind that these are associations rather than causations, and additional research needs to be done so that other causes for improvement can be ruled out.

While you are opening the windows and setting plants on the sill be sure to throw the curtains wide as well.  Lots of natural light important for creating a sense of Hygge in the home, it is also great for our bodies and minds, especially after the long dark winter.

During the winter I go to work in the dark and I come home in the dark and get few opportunities to spend time outside during the day.  Frankly, it's a bit depressing.  When the sky starts to lighten during my morning commute, I can almost feel happiness seeping back into me.  

That may be because scientists believe that levels of serotonin in the brain increases as the days get longer.  In other words, wintertime blues may actually be a product of too little light.  Severe cases are called Seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression.  Doctors recommend that people spend at least 30 minutes of a day out in the sunlight to combat this type of depression.

While you are out there you can also soak up some vitamin D, which is important for calcium absorption and bone growth.  Vitamin D can also help prevent certain cancers, heart disease, depression, and even weight gain.  While it is possible to take a vitamin D supplement for these benefits as well, it is unclear if supplements are as good for us as getting vitamin D from the sun.  Currently, there is an Australian study underway called the Sun Exposure and Vitamin D Supplementation Study that hopes to get the definitive answer, so keep an eye out on your favorite biomedical publication.

In episode 15 we discussed the impact of natural and artificial light on the production of melatonin and it impacts on a good night’s sleep.  The short story is if you want a really good night's sleep natural light is your friend.  

It is also your friend if you want to be more productive.  Besides just helping you be well rested, natural light was shown to improve standardized test score and even increase sales in studies.  I think part of that is simply feeling better in a space.  

One of the reasons that Scandinavian homes have that sense of serenity or Hygge is the lack of superfluous stuff.

In Episode 8:  Wax on Wax Off, I discussed some theories on the History of Spring Cleaning.  My favorite was that after a long winter with the house closed up and the fire going non stop that homes simply needed a good clean.  While we may not get quite as much physical dirt built up during the winter time as we once did, we do accumulate a lot of junk over the course and Spring remains a great time to clean all of that out.

While we change out thick blankets and heavy curtains for lighter ones to make way for the new season it seems natural to also make way for new beginnings in our lives by clearing out the clutter from the prior year.  Clutter can cause stress and feelings of guilt and can hold us back from moving forward in our lives.  

By clearing out the clutter and creating a home with a very hygge feel we may also get many other physical and psychological benefits.  In Episode 4:  One Resolution to Rule Them All, I investigated the impact that clutter had on our lives and the benefits of decluttering.  

A 2015 study published in the online supplement to the journal Sleep found that people that were at risk for hoarding had some big complaints about sleep.  Study participants were found to have high levels of sleep latency, sleep disturbances, and daytime disturbances, probably stemming from poor sleeping conditions.  

Decluttering may also make you happier, reduce stress, improve self-confidence, improve breathing in people with allergies and asthma, reduce your risk of injury,  make it easier to exercise and eat healthily, save you money, and even help you lose weight.  Listen to episode 4, if you havn't already to get the full details.  

 

When I began researching the topic of Hygge I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between hygee and self-care.  Hygge is not just about making your house look nice, it is about making you feel better while you are in it.  It is about fostering a sense of well being.

Just like drinking a cup of hot chocolate by the fire can make it seem like all is right in the world, springtime activities can also promote Hygge.  So this spring I would like to encourage you to have a picnic, drink a glass of ice cold lemonade by the pool, go star gazing or watch a sunrise, and spend time with the people you love.

I would love to find out how you create a sense of Hygge in your home as the temperature rises.  If you would like to share please love a comment on hangyourhatpodcast.com or email me at hangyourhatpodcast@gmail.com.  

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And as always, thanks for listening.

Episode 19: Meet me on the Equinox

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It is time to officially make the transition to fall, and that starts with the Equinox.  In this week's episode we will explore what the equinox is and how it occurs, ways to celebrate the equinox, including several variations on harvest festivals, and how your work in the garden is not over even when the harvest is done.

If you want to learn more about the movement of the Earth, check out this video from Vsauce:  https://youtu.be/IJhgZBn-LHg

 

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