Koselig, the Norwegian winter mindset

You’ve undoubtedly heard of hygge. It’s been everywhere, a part of our vernacular, since around 2016. But what about the Norwegian version, “koselig?” Koselig (pronounced “KOO-shell-eh”) may be less familiar, but it’s equally useful to know, especially when you’re staring down some long, cold months ahead.

What the heck is koselig?

Koselig is the Norwegian cousin to the Danish concept of “hygge.” They’re not completely different, but there are a couple of slight, philosophical divergences. I suspect if you asked a Dane, “Hey, do you believe in these concepts?” they’d say “Yes, of course,” but they probably would not saythat koselig and hygge are the same.

Here’s the thing: Norway is a country that goes way further north than Denmark.

Check it out:

map of scandinavia

Do you see how much further north Norway goes? It’s a lot. And it’s very, very, very cold up there. My dad’s family comes from Moen, which is way, way up at the tippy top of Norway (see where Finland wanders into Norway up at the top with that narrow pass on the left? That’s kind of where my people are from). Many of the things I’ve learned from my dad fall well within the koselig mentality – a spirit of coziness, adventure, and togetherness that comes with winter (though technically it can happen any time).

As a word, koselig can apply to a situation, a conversation, a person, and it means generally safe, warm, cozy, and good.

Based on my own family experience, as well as copious research, I’ve come up with a mini-manifesto for the spirit of koselig:

A Koselig Manifesto

  1. A winter mindset
  2. Atmosphere
  3. The right clothes
  4. Friluftsliv
  5. Social connection
  6. Turn off devices

Let’s take a closer look at each of these items and how you can use them to not only make your winter life cozier, but also happier, as you pass your time through this winter, which feels a bit longer than most.

A Positive Winter Mindset

When it comes to winter, are you excited about it, or do you dread it? Kari Leibowitz, a health psychologist, has done extensive research into the Nordic mindset, particularly koselig. Leibowitz spent considerable time in Tromsø, which is practically a stone’s throw from where my dad’s family is from (they’re both so far above the Arctic Circle that there’s no sun at all November through January)

When Leibowitz describes the people of Tromsø, she talks about how they look forward to winter. They get excited about ski season and about the opportunity to create the deep coziness that’s really only possible in the cold weather. In fact, Leibowitz’s research indicated that, “having a positive wintertime mindset was associated with greater life satisfaction, willingness to pursue the challenges that lead to personal growth, and positive emotions.”

Aha! So, how can you create a “positive winter mindset?” Start with a daily gratitude exercise. What things are you grateful for when it comes to winter? I get excited about the beautiful snow, whether it’s gently drifting down or falling so fast you can hardly see. I love icicles and the crisp air, so fresh that practically bites your lungs. And, there’s always that cozy atmosphere.

Ponder this question: “How can I lean into winter? What about winter can delight me?”
(Note: if you said, “The end of winter can delight me,” then you’re missing the point!)

 

fireplace

Atmosphere

I talked about atmosphere quite a bit in my article on hygge. What you’re after with koselig is a simpler, cozy, ski lodge vibe. So light a fire in the fireplace, put on your wool socks, light some candles, make a cozy hot beverage, grab some comfort food, and snuggle up under a blanket – preferably with someone you love (see Social Connection).

Ponder this question: “How can I make my space cozier?”

 

The Right Clothes

The Norwegians have a saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” It means if you’re properly dressed, you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable, even in the wintertime.

The truth is, cold weather gear has come a really long way in the last few decades. Years ago, going outside in the wintertime meant bundling up in so many layers that you could barely move properly (think “A Christmas Story”).

These days, staying warm in cold weather is (dare I say it) a breeze. You still need layers, but they’re thinner and more flexible than ever before. And that’s great, because the next part of koselig is “friluftsliv.”

Friluftsliv

woman in hat outside in winterFriluftsliv (pronounced, “FREE-looft-sleeve”) is translated to “outdoor life” or “free air life,” although that doesn’t capture the full notion of friluftsliv. According to The Language Exchange, “It is a term in Norway that is used often to describe a way of life that is spent exploring and appreciating nature.” Friluftsliv isn’t only just for winter, but it is especially relevant during the months many think of as cold and dreary.

Friluftsliv encompasses a spirit of adventure and activity – getting outdoors and appreciating nature. It doesn’t matter what you do outside – it could be walking your dog, taking photos of icicles, playing hockey, ice skating, meditating, skiing, sledding, ice fishing, or having a rousing snowball fight.

Part of the magic of friluftsliv is that it encompasses a bit of adventure, but the adventure is totally up to you. It might be adventurous enough to bundle up and go outside in cold weather at all, or it might be adventurous to try out snowshoeing for the first time. It’s entirely up to you!

We know that going outside is good for you – getting some fresh air in your lungs, being in nature, being outside – it’s all good for your mental health. It’s good for your physical health, too!

Ponder this question: Am I going outside enough?

 

Social Connection

One of the hallmarks of koselig is deep, interpersonal connections. Normally you’d want to have your social time in person, but these are…interesting times. That said, we are so fortunate that there are so many ways to connect with each other!

My dad and I have spent the entire pandemic following watercolor tutorials on YouTube, once a week on Zoom. Last weekend we took a virtual weaving class from a making workshop in New York. My sister and I, along with our families, have had some lovely socially distant get-togethers and birthdays. We’ve celebrated Christmas and birthdays virtually, across town and across an ocean. We had family trivia, we shared memories, ate cake, and opened presents. I’ve had virtual hangouts and cocktail hours with friends and colleagues.

And, intermingled with the socially distant or virtual social time, of course, there’s been a lot of quality time with Leo and our three sweet pups, Gus, Max, and Sam.

We’ve learned to give each other plenty of space in this pandemic, particularly since we also work together! But, there’s still time for leisurely walks with the boys, exploring nature, and whatever safe public spaces our community has to offer. We eat dinner together every night, laughing and talking, and I finally got Leo to nerd out on Star Trek with me.

And, since Leo bought me a beautiful new record player for Christmas, there’s been some wonderful evenings spent playing board games at the table, listening to new (and old) records, a fire blazing, the dogs curled up at our feet and in our laps.

If you don’t have another human in your house, a pet will do! And you can always use virtual strategies to bring loved ones to you.

Ponder this question: Can you bring more social connection to your (socially distant) life?

 

Couple in pajamas resting near fireplace indoors, closeup. Winter vacation

Turn Off Devices (when you can)

Yep, if you want pure koselig, turn off the phones, turn off the TV. No notifications buzzing and bothering you. Stop binge watching everything. Turn down

the lights. Snuggle up in a blanket and watch the snow fall with a loved one. Watch the fire and let it mesmerize you. Meditate on the flames

Koselig is about finding joy in the moment, even when it’s a challenge, and savoring that moment. At the heart of koselig is a spirit of gratitude, about “making the best of a bad situation and finding a way to “connect with the opportunities of this moment for greater reflection and deeper meaning and stronger relationships and social connection,”” according to Kari Leibowitz.

Ponder this question: Can you spend some time without your devices each day? Or better yet, can you pick one day when you’re completely device-free?

Enjoy the Winter!

Now that you have the gist of koselig, start to evolve the way you look at winter. You may find that you really can make it through without the depression and dread we’ve all been anticipating. At the least, you’ll have some new tools to help you cope.