December 20, 2018

Gezelligheid and your health

Wisconsin winters can be challenging – bitterly cold temps, slippery sidewalks, days without sunshine and night that feels like it arrives too early. It’s no wonder moods tend to be low and motivation can be lacking. But the season provides another opportunity – to slow down and savor the moment.

Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a Scandinavian concept that is about creating a sense of warmth, or coziness, and finding contentment in the small moments. The concept, which gained popularity in the U.S. a few years ago, is credited as one of the reasons Denmark always tops the list of the world’s happiest countries.

And while it has made its way into American culture, UW Health psychologist Shilagh Mirgain recalls a similar sentiment from her childhood in Holland: Gezelligheid.

"Gezelligheid is about establishing a meaningful, mindful connection with the world, ourselves and others."

“There is no direct English translation,” Mirgain said. “But it was a word we used to describe a particular feeling that is created by experiences that filled us with a sense of warmth and contentment.”

Like Hygge, Gezelligheid recognizes that feelings of comfort and nourishment we experience on our own or with like-minded people that arise from quiet moments are important to our well-being. As Mirgain noted, learning to savor those moments helps us engage with different aspects of our health:

  • Emotional: Helps promote a sense of peace and calm, reduces anxiety and allows us to connect more fully with others.

  • Mental: Brings awareness to the present moment, helps calm the mind.

  • Physical: Reduces stress and improves relaxation, maybe even helps with better quality sleep.

  • Social: Helps lessen feelings of loneliness and creates greater intimacy with friends and family.

Cultivating a sense of Gezelligheid can be as simple as making a cup of tea or cocoa, settling under a warm blanket and reading a good book. Or, it can be found in the company of friends while enjoying a simple dinner of homemade soup and playing a board game together.

“It’s not about anything extravagant or luxurious,” said Mirgain. “It’s about the simplicity of the every day moment, of slowing down and creating a feeling of intimacy with the simple pleasures of life. It’s about establishing a meaningful, mindful connection with the world, ourselves and others.”

Creating a sense of Gezelligheid

To help create a sense of Gezelligheid, Mirgain offered additional suggestions:

Create a cozy atmosphere

Being surrounded by warmth, from warm lights or soft textures, can go a long way to creating a sense comfort. Light candles, wear warm socks, have soft blankets and pillows. It doesn’t need to be fancy. And don’t forget the mood music – soft music in the background can add to the feeling of relaxation.

Bring nature inside

Fresh flowers and plants bring a calming energy to a space. Filling the room with warm scents can help too, such as cinnamon or pine.

Cook up some comfort

Homemade meals that incorporate seasonal ingredients are healthy and nourishing. Consider homemade soups or stews accompanied with freshly baked bread. And there is even room for a traditional family dessert. If it’s between meals, consider a warm beverage such as hot cocoa or tea.

Connect with others

Slow down, put the phone away and be present with others. Spend quality time together with no distractions. Consider playing a game together or engage in an activity, like baking or crafting.


It’s hard to feel relaxed when there’s a pile of unopened mail and dirty dishes in the sink. Consider clearing out items that aren’t needed and straightening up the house.

Make time for self-care

Find the things that bring joy and savor them – for some that might be a box of favorite chocolate, for others it could be reading a good book. Engage in an activity that feels truly nourishing. And make time to be alone. In the hectic pace of daily life, it can be hard to step away, but doing so helps us recharge and better able to handle the stresses we face every day.

Embrace the season

Sometimes it can seem like the cold temperatures last forever. Getting out to enjoy the season can help it feel a little less daunting. Whether it’s a walk in the woods or skating on the pond, finding the beauty of the season can help create a sense of joy.

Gezelligheid can mean different things to different people, but it really comes down to making the most of the moment.

“We can’t find this feeling on our phone or tablet, so put the devices down, savor the good things in life by enjoying the present moment,” said Mirgain.