Many of us are familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD.

In a city like Chicago with only 84 days of full sunshine, it can be difficult to look on the sunny side of things That said, why has Denmark, with a sun that sets earlier than 4 p.m. in winter, been voted the happiest country in the EU for the past 40 years? What are the Danes doing that we are not doing?

In a word, hygge.

If you have not yet heard of hygge, you will soon become very familiar with it. According to the New Yorker, six hygge books were printed in the U.S. last year alone, and they covered topics ranging from food to interior decorating to fashion to lifestyle. More books are on the way, which makes sense as some consider hygge the Scandinavian treatment of SAD without the medications usually involved.

So what exactly is hygge? It is a noun, a verb, a state of being. The clearest English equivalent that I could find is the art of being cozy and living in the moment. Put simply, Hygge is about finding pleasure in the smallest of things, whether it is a cup of cocoa or great socks.

Most importantly, hygge is about being present in the moment and appreciative of the many blessings available. The Danes, and perhaps all Scandinavians, put a large emphasis on their relationships. Being with family and friends around a fire and sharing a good conversation is their definition of “as good as it gets.” It values little pleasures in a big way.

Hygge has a focus on the natural world, including spending part of each day outdoors no matter the weather. Natural foods, natural fibers, candles in particular, are very hygge. Eating out is a rare occasion, perhaps because the tax on restaurant meals is 25%. There is a strong value on handmade, homemade items. Gratitude for what they have is also a strong value, and the competitive striving found in the US does not seem to be nearly as important.

To be sure, Scandinavian countries tend to have more government entitlements than the US. There is free healthcare, childcare, college education, and earlier retirement than in our country. That certainly can take out some of the need for competing with others. However, in my opinion, the sense of gratitude, valuing relationships above all else, and living in the moment while minimizing consumer consumption is not connected to government entitlements. Perhaps we can all take a page out of the Danish playbook.

That said, in the spirit of honesty in therapy, let’s discuss SAD as it occurs in this country. Symptoms of SAD are part of a complex disorder that includes genes, environment and culture all contributing to its occurrence. Symptoms include lowered mood, fatigue, decreased energy, weight gain, a craving for sleep and carbs. The key to diagnosis is the link between the mood disorder and the time of year that it occurs. For more information, see this link.

While we certainly can’t control all of the risk factors for SAD, perhaps hygge can help minimize the symptoms.

I hope this helps. As winter continues, please remember to do as many pleasant things for yourself as possible.

As always, if you want to make an appointment, please call me at 847-827-7639.

– Terri