This blog post first appeared here in March 2019 when my chosen word of the year was resilience and I was spending a good deal of time reading articles and books to help me improve mine. I hope my updated post proves useful to anyone looking for a few ideas on the topic to support their good mental health.
What do we mean by the term ‘resilience’?
Resilience can be defined as the ability to cope with and rise from all of the challenges, problems and set-backs that life throws at us and come back stronger. When we develop our skills and personal strength in this area, we are able to handle our difficulties more easily and this can improve our overall mental health.
The following ideas were collected at a time when I was in a good place and have helped me during periods of depression and low mood. I hope you find them useful too. Even if you are in a period of good mental health right now, it can be useful to learn ways to develop your resilience for times in the future when you may need a boost.
Try to remain optimistic
It can be difficult to remain optimistic when faced with challenges in life but maintaining a hopeful outlook is an important part of resilience. Try to have a positive mindset and encourage thinking such as ‘it’s not the end of the world’ and ‘things will get better’. Remember that set backs are temporary and remind yourself that you are strong and that you have the skills and abilities to face your difficulties.
When negative thoughts pop into your head, try to replace them with something more positive such as ‘I have lots of friends who will support me through this’, ‘I am good at solving problems’, ‘I never give up’, ‘I am good at my job’ etc. Also, choose to see challenges and bad experiences as an opportunity to learn. Ask yourself ‘What can I learn from this situation?’, ‘What is this trying to teach me?’ ‘What positives can I take from my experience?’.
Mindfulness is all about awareness in the present moment – our thoughts and feelings and the world around us. It involves the use of techniques such as meditation, breathing and stretching exercises and can help you to stay calm and in control of your emotions.
When practising mindfulness you begin to notice how thoughts come and go in your mind. You learn to accept these thoughts without judgement and develop your ability to let them go. In addition, you are able to tune in to what your body is telling you and notice signs of stress and anxiety so that you can release tension as you meditate.
It’s really important to have people who you can turn to at times of need. Building and nurturing constructive relationships with positive and supportive friends, family and colleagues is an essential part of wellbeing and staying resilient. They can provide a listening ear, positive encouragement, advice or help you celebrate your achievements. Having a good support system in place has also been shown to boost self esteem, confidence and better self image.
If you feel you need to widen your support network, there are many opportunities to do so either in your local community or through online groups. Try your local library, community centre or college for clubs and classes or try to find out about volunteering opportunities in your fields of interest.
A resilient body
We’ve all heard the expression ‘healthy body, heathy mind’ and keeping yourself well is another key part of resilience. Try to eat regularly and make sure you get plenty of good for you fruit and veggies in your diet. Find a type of exercise that you enjoy (personally, I love countryside walks and dancing), and schedule in a time for this each day. Also, remember to take time out to relax and recharge. It’s not self indulgent to schedule in some me time each day, it’s a key part of coping with our busy and stressful lives.
Good sleep is also vital for a healthy lifestyle and better mental health. Try to develop a good relaxation routine each evening – listen to some calming music, dim the lights, meditate or have a warm bath. Many people recommend writing in a journal as a way of putting the day to rest so that you don’t have lot of thoughts buzzing around in your head when you climb into bed. If you want to learn more about this technique click here.
Ideas to try in your bullet journal
Create a positive affirmations page and read them every morning. Examples of affirmations include ‘I am strong’, ‘I see the bright side in all situations’, ‘I radiate positive energy’.
Add some of your favourite positive quotes to your weekly plan.
Write a list of ways to reward yourself for your achievements such as ‘have a relaxing bubble bath’, ‘paint your nails’, ‘buy yourself some planner stickers’, ‘treat yourself to your favourite bar of chocolate’ etc.
Practise gratitude by keeping a ‘one line a day’ log where you write in something you are grateful for on that day. You can include anything you want such as ‘the helpful magazine article I read yesterday’, ‘a kind text from my friend’, ‘3 new shop orders today’, ‘the lovely feedback I received’ etc
Make a ‘Things That Make Me Happy’ page and use it to remind you of all the good things in your life.
Produce a list of creative activities that you enjoy and find the time to schedule at least one of them into your busy week. Getting involved in art and creative tasks has been proven to reduce stress and it’s another mindful activity which can provide a welcome distraction from negative thoughts or anxieties.
Keep a daily journal in which you evaluate your day. It will help you to focus on the positives and any challenges that you met. You can also use your journaling as a space to assess your issues and any ideas you may have for solving them.
I hope you have found these tips useful and will try out some of the ideas in your notebook or bullet journal. Of course sometimes, during periods of depression, it is really difficult to see a way forward back to better mental health and it may be that if you’re really struggling, the help of a trained therapist might be the best form of help. I have found CBT style therapy particularly useful in the past and still apply what I’ve been taught over the years. Skills associated with resilience take time to develop but I believe that everyone has the capacity to learn.
NB: This post was originally published in September 2019 and updated for April 2023
In 2019, as part of my ongoing therapy, I attended a weekly compassion group where I met up with like-minded individuals to consider different aspects of wellbeing and a variety of techniques for improved mental health. For one of the sessions, we spent time learning about the vagus nerve and its impact on overall health. I must admit, I hadn’t previously heard of this important bundle of fibres so I was really interested to find out as much as I could (I love every opportunity to learn something new). So, in today’s post, I’ll look at what the vagus nerve is, what it does and ways in which you can stimulate it to support good mental health.
Introducing the vagus nerve (a.k.a. the tenth cranial nerve)
The vagus nerve is the longest of our cranial nerves (the ones which emerge straight from our brain) and controls our inner nerve centre. It oversees a range of crucial functions, communicating motor and sensory impulses to each organ of our body – namely our heart, lungs, upper digestive tract, and other organs of the chest and abdomen. The vagus nerve is critical to our overall health and it has been scientifically proven that stimulating this important bundle of motor and sensory fibres is key to reducing our stress, anxiety and anger levels.
So, enough of the science lesson, what are the practical ways that we can get this thing working to our advantage?
breathe deeply and slowly
Slow and deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve in a way that can help reduce our heart rate and enable us to become more relaxed. That’s why focusing on your breath during mini meditations can be so soothing for us and is a key part of compassion based therapy. You can find out more about different types of breathing in this useful post from verywellmind, especially the diaphragmatic style which is also known as deep breathing.
Regular exercise such as a gentle walk or some simple stretches stimulates gut flow which is regulated by your vagus nerve. Why not combine your walk with getting in touch with nature so you can stimulate all of your senses and enjoy some peace and quiet at the same time?
have a good laugh
There’s a reason behind the popular saying ‘laughter is the best medicine’. Proper belly laughs are thought to be great for stimulating the vagus nerve. Why not try going to a comedy show, playing some humourous videos on YouTube or TikTok (haven’t ventured onto TikTok myself but I’m pretty sure there’s some funny content on there!) or watching an episode of your favourite funny TV series tonight? There’s even a thing called ‘laughter therapy’ according to a counsellor I used to see, although I’ve never tried it myself!
try getting yourself all cold!
Apparently any type of exposure to cold will increase vagus nerve activation. That’s why some people swear by having a cold shower first thing in the morning to get going! Personally I prefer a little cold water on my face or a nice cold glass of water to wake myself up but it’s entirely up to you how you expose yourself to a little bit of coldness!
Sing or chant
As a member of a choir, I love singing and find it really helps my wellbeing. Now I know why! Why not trying putting on your favourite music and singing along (and maybe do a little boogie as well for the exercise) to activate your vagus nerve? Chanting also works too so no wonder football fans feel so good when they shout for their team at matches.
A nice neck massage is a lovely way to stimulate the vagus nerve or why not try a foot massage to help lower your heart rate and blood pressure. I love it when my husband does a firm massage of my feet after a long day when we’re sat together watching TV. If you haven’t got an obliging partner, a session with a qualified masseuse makes a fantastic pampering treat if you can afford it.
Positive social contact
Being socially connected, be it with compassionate friends, family or even our beloved pets has been shown to help with emotional regulation though vagal stimulation. Make sure that you choose to spend time with kind hearted and thoughtful people to ensure a positive experience.
Reduce your consumption of junk food
I’m sure you already know that eating too much fatty stuff is bad for you but excess consumption of ‘junk food’ has been shown to reduce the sensitivity of your vagus nerve. The occasional treat is okay but try not to indulge too often.
Yoga and Tai Chi
The benefits of practises such as yoga and Tai Chi are well documented. They have both been shown to increase vagus nerve activity and your parasympathetic (also known as rest and digest) system in general. You can find many simple yoga sequences online and beginner classes of exercises are widely available if you want to make it a social event too.
And finally, try to make time to relax each and every day
It’s up to you what form that relaxation takes, a nice warm bath, a few uninterrupted chapters of your favourite novel, craft or art activities or settling down to watch a film. Find something relaxing to do each day will have a positive effect on your wellbeing by working your vagus nerve.
I hope you’ve found today’s post interesting and have learnt something new. Let me know if you try any of the ideas and if they have a positive effect on your wellbeing as a result. I learnt so much during my compassion group therapy and I’m continuing to work hard to put things into practice to improve my wellbeing. Updating this has encouraged me to look back over the handouts we received to remind myself of the various ideas and techniques from the ten week course.
Happy New Year to all of my readers! Wishing you a fantastic 2023. I’m a bit late sharing my bullet journal pages this time as I only just got them finished. I’ve done a snowflakes theme before, but last time, I did a monochrome version with just my Pigma micron pens. I ordered some new brush and fine nib pens to arrive just after Christmas and there are lots of lovely blues in the set of 24, so I thought I’d try out the fine tips on my January spreads. I hope you like them and as always, if you’ve shared your pages for this month, feel free to link them in the comments.
This month’s cover page is heavily influenced by a design from @createmore.se on Instagram. I’ve changed it up slightly by adding sparkles, dots and small circles but the composition is mainly the same. I used my circle drawing tool and, as I messed up the lettering in my notebook, I cut a page from the back using my X-Acto knife, trimmed it down, created the wreath and then stuck it in after I’d finished. I decided to do a rough freehand border around it to make it stand out. My new pens are from the Ohuhu brand and I ordered the mid tone range which has some lovely pastel colours.
I’m really pleased with how this one turned out. It’s my usual grid layout with different snowflake designs filling the space. It took me a while but it was a nice bit of mindful drawing in the evening of the first of January,
Again, this spread is self explanatory. By the end of last month, my expenses table was completely full – in fact I ran out of space! Hopefully, this month will be a lot lighter on the spending front!
TV series watched
I don’t do one of these each month but my last one ran up until the end of December so I’ve just set up a new one. I like to record all of the different series we watch and the particular genres we enjoy. It’s nice to see all of the things we’ve watched and is a good reminder of what we’ve seen.
Veganuary Week 1 Meal Planning
My husband and I are doing Veganuary again this year which means we’re eating vegan for the whole of January. It gets easier every year but we still need to do a meal plan each week so that we know what we’re having for lunch and dinner each day. I also find the meal planning pages from previous years really useful. Obviously, this page could be useful whatever your diet but we don’t tend to spend long thinking of meal ideas the rest of the year.
This is my first weekly of the month. I used the same snowflake design for each day because coming up with different designs is what took a lot of time for the cover and calendar. I messed up on the spacing for this spread so the bottom columns are one dot space shorter than the ones at the top but it doesn’t bother me too much as I tend to write less at the weekends anyway.
That’s all of the spreads I’ve drawn up so far. I have my running task list to set up this morning which will go on the page after my weekly plan and I will of course be doing more meal planning spreads and weekly plans over the weeks. I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at my spreads for this month. We have no snow here at the moment but it is certainly cold enough to get some white stuff soon.
This month I finished reading The Art of Making Memories: How to create and remember happy moments by Meik Wiking. I actually started it last year, but I put it to one side and picked it up again around the middle of October. I’d forgotten many of the key points and ideas, so I re-started from the beginning and spent 20 minutes each morning, reading and highlighting. This has now become part of my early routine and takes place in a super comfortable chair by the window to give myself a good dose of natural light. And, as one of my current affirmations on my vision board is ‘I use self-development books to help me grow’, I’m working hard to apply my learning and decided it would be a good idea to share some of the ideas on here too. I’m also going to talk about some of my own suggestions for memory keeping such as journalling, photography, scrapbooking, memorabilia displays and memory boxes, plus a few more ideas I found online.
Why are memories important?
Rather than provide my own thoughts on the above question, I collected a few ideas from others to share:
Happy memories are essential to our mental health. They strengthen our identity, sense of purpose and relationships.
There are important moments that make up our life’s narrative. We remember the defining moments in our lives, the moments that made us who we are, the moments where we became who we hoped we could be.
Meik Wiking, The Art of Making Memories
I love those random memories that make me smile no matter what is going on in my life right now.
The moment may be temporary but the memory is forever.
‘Happy memories form the cornerstone of our identity, and can help with combating depression and loneliness,’ says Wiking. ‘They influence our happiness in the current moment, as well as providing a framework for our hopes and dreams about the future.’ Nostalgia makes us happy, increasing self-esteem and strengthening social connectedness, so the more vividly we remember the good times, the happier we are overall.
Memories are timeless treasures of the heart.
So how can we create a life full of happy memories to treasure?
Following extensive research conducted by the team at The Happiness Research Institute in Denmark, Meik came up eight keys ingredients for creating happy memories whether they’re of important events such as births and marriages, everyday events such as drinking good coffee and eating delicious cake in a cafe with a friend for the first time in ages, adventures such as moving to a new city, climbing a mountain or going abroad for the very first time or struggling to finish a big assignment but then being delighted with the feedback given by the course tutor. Here’s a brief explanation of each of these elements:
This is the idea that the very first time you experience something is likely to be remembered much better than subsequent very similar experiences. So, for example, you’re likely to remember your first time on an aeroplane, your very first pet, your first job, your first kiss etc. A great idea then, is to seek out new and novel experiences on a regular basis, the more extraordinary the better. You might like to schedule an evening in your diary or planner to find out what’s available to you and explore different options – you might organise a holiday, choose a new restaurant for a family meal (trying a new food or dish will make it even more memorable), sign up for an evening class (I recommend beginners ceramics) or plan to visit a museum is a nearby town or city.
Make it multisensory
In the classroom, during my years as a primary school teacher, one of the important ways of ensuring all children learnt well and enjoyed activities was to create multisensory experiences. These are the kinds of lessons which stay with them for years and they can still remember well after they’ve left school. This can be applied to memory making too. Don’t just experience things with your eyes, try to make sure you use all of your senses (not just sight) to take everything in. Consider if there are any particular aromas in the air, like the smell of freshly roasted coffee, the scent of cinnamon and winter spices in a pot pourri at Christmas time. Be still and listen for near and distant sounds (either pleasant or unpleasant) such as the drumming of a woodpecker in a faraway tree, the roar of the ocean or music drifting on the breeze. Take time to explore different textures such as soft knitted blankets as you get all cosy after a chilly winter walk, or smooth pebbles on the beach and you sit on the sand. Maybe as you relax and take everything in you become aware of a range of sensations, the chill of winter on your skin or the warmth of the Sun on your face in summer or the crunchy autumn leaves below your feet. Perhaps new or favourite tastes complete the scene -succulent strawberries, crunchy, salty popcorn, the sharp tang of the lemon slice in your chilled glass of Pimms and lemonade. And, as you attend to every detail of your experience, you’re engaging in one of the key aspects of mindfulness which is wonderful for your mental health too.
Pay full attention
It should come as no surprise that experiences are best remembered if you invest your complete attention on them. So, for example, if in the summer you went on a Sunday afternoon boat trip to see puffins, but you spend most of the time thinking about all of the work you have to do on Monday, you’re unlikely to remember key details like the warm sun as it sparkled on the water, the interesting facts the captain shared as you headed towards Coquet island, the joy of spying a line of cute seals bobbing in the water making sure that the boat didn’t get too close, the thousands of noisy puffins flying overhead and diving down into the water to catch sand eels, and the hundreds more birds basking in the warmth after a busy morning fishing. However, if you remain attentive during whole cruise, you’re likely to be able to recall all of the magical trip and how you felt for many years to come.
Keep it meaningful
Meaningful moments in your life are those which are of great significance or value to you, where positive emotions such as gratefulness, love, happiness, pride, warmth, peace and often, a sense of connection with loved ones is felt. These could be ‘big’ milestone moments such as finishing college or university, starting a new job, the day you got married, the birth of a child or buying your very first house. They could also be smaller events or happenings which are really important to you and your personal values, for example, for me as a wildlife and nature lover, sitting quietly with my husband in the hide at Kielder Forest, watching and listening to the woodland birds and then suddenly spotting a red squirrel taking a snack from a feeder is one of my favourite memories which I will cherish for a very long time. As well as making exciting plans to celebrate each of our birthdays and our wedding anniversary, my husband and I also make sure we schedule in plenty of other pleasurable activities and adventures for our weekends such as visits to nature reserves, riverside walks in different parts of the Northeast, trips to the theatre, lunches in various vegetarian cafes and overnight stays in quaint villages or vibrant cities.
The emotional highlighter pen
According to Meik, emotions act like a highlighter pen so experiences involving heightened emotions will stick fast in your memory. That’s why we never forget the exact details of times when we’ve felt really embarrassed (no matter how much we’d like to). ‘An emotional reaction will make experiences and moments more memorable, so the art of making memories means making the emotional highlighter pen work for you.’ This also works for exhilarating, joyful, scary, traumatic, sad and shocking events too. Next time you’re planning a holiday, try to add a few activities to the itinerary which are bound to be emotional highlights.
Peaks and struggles
Some of the milestones mentioned above such as completing your university degree, buying your first home or getting married are highly memorable events, but the struggles, stresses and hard work involved to get there is likely to be unforgettable too. There’s so much involved in planning your wedding day that working full time and having a long to do list of preparations months and weeks before can be so stressful and exhausting that when the day arrives it’s such a relief that it (mostly!) went to plan, and you can enjoy what should be one of the happiest occasions of your life.
Meik shares these happy memory tips:
save the best for last – e.g., if giving a few gifts to your partner for their birthday or Christmas, save the most precious / exciting one until the end, when creating a holiday itinerary, do something with the ‘wow’ factor on the last day etc.
make the journey part of the experience and try taking the long route – for example, go on a gentle and relaxing boat trip along the river to the other side of the city or hire a bike for the day to cycle around the various attractions, rather than jumping in a taxi.
plan something for your weekend that helps it to end on a high note
Share your memories as stories and regularly have ‘remember when…’ conversations
A memory model known as The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve shows that over time our retention of memories decline, unless we take action to keep them. Knowing about and understanding the forgetting curve can be important when we are trying to learn new skills or absorb vital information but how does it help us with remembering happy memories? Well, according to Meik, regularly sharing your happy moments with others as stories can help immensely. This could involve helping loved ones to hold on to past events by retelling anecdotes, having ‘remember when?’ conversations or even sharing funny or interesting experiences from your own childhood. Regularly reminiscing has also been shown to help combat memory loss as we get older too.
The final ingredient for maintaining happy memories is to outsource them. In business, as some of you may know, this generally means asking a third party to take care of a particular job or task. In memory retention, however, we can outsource memories by taking photos, collecting mementoes, keeping a diary or journal or by sharing to social media, such as Instagram, Facebook or even a blogging platform.
Most of us take thousands of photos each year which are generally stored on our phones or online using ‘the cloud’. Flicking through these images can certainly spark memories but personally, I prefer to use a range of memory keeping strategies and I especially love creative journalling.
Memory keeping ideas
Monthly memory pages
I’ve created a few of these in my bullet journal to help me to remember what happened during the month. I’ve tried to summarise each event in a few lines so I can fit plenty of memories in. Some of them are dated, whereas others are just something that occurred over time such as watching a particular TV series.
A memento can be defined as an object kept as a reminder of a person or past event. It can spark memories or feelings of happiness each time we see it. For example, when my nan passed away, my mum selected two ornaments from her Royal Crown Derby Cottage Garden Collection – a sleeping kitten and a cute little Dormouse, to give to me to keep. They remind me of my nan, her many ornaments which she had displayed around her home and my grandparents’ pet cat called Tibbles. Also, I like the animals which were chosen and the decor on each piece so they’re things that I’m happy to display in my own home.
Other mementoes you might consider include:
something from each of your holidays such as a fridge magnet
a photo in a frame of special occasions e.g., wedding days, child’s first day at school in uniform, the stunning view from a hill you walked up, the bespoke birthday cake that was made for someone’s 80th etc.
hand or footprint casts – you can even get one done of your pet’s paw!
your child’s first tooth
your child’s first artwork
a souvenir from some of your ‘firsts’ holidays e.g., a mini Eiffel Tower
newspaper clippings from something important to you that made the local news
You’ve probably heard the adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ which basically means that one single image can often convey multiple ideas, messages and meanings more effectively than a long verbal description can. Therefore, you could write pages and pages describing particular experiences in your life but sometimes, photographs can be enough to spark your memory. Similarly, if you selected a particular photograph from one of your albums (or located one on your phone) you could use it to tell someone else the story of that particular occasion or spend time recalling the event in detail with whoever you shared the moment with.
Set up a private social media account
Many of you will have an Instagram account which features carefully cropped photos with perfect lighting, filters, captions and emojis. This is the stuff you’re happy to share with people online for likes and comments. What Meik suggests is creating another account for everyday memories which might not be Instagram ready bits and pieces you want the whole world to see but are still part of your experience and would give you pleasure to look at.
Personally, I like to combine lots of different memory keeping tools and techniques in my creative journals. I use a traveller’s notebook size and like to record days out, holidays, special events, clothing, accessory and home decor purchases, craft and art projects, wildlife sightings, new dishes, snacks and sweet treats tried, anything really, but especially new and novel experiences (as per Miek Wiking’s power of firsts). As well as including journaling and photographs in various sizes I also like to stick in related mementoes such as restaurant menus, tickets, receipts, packaging, lists of wildlife or nature spots – anything that adds to the memory.
December Daily is a project idea created by memory keeper, Ali Edwards and is a way of documenting the 25 days leading up to Christmas. A few years ago, I had a go at creating a Christmas journal using a range of papers I picked up from my local Lidl supermarket making my own traveler’s notebook size insert. I made a page or two for each day
This year, I’ve bought a Chistmassy 8×8 album and a range of different pocket pages which can be filled with photos, bits of journalling and anything which will spark off festive memories. I’m busy building a collection of stickers and ephemera to use and am enjoying watching different approaches to the project on YouTube. I’ve also printed off lots of different prompts I found online to make sure I record lots of different aspects of the month of December and don’t run out of ideas.
I’ve not tried this one myself, but it sounds like a really nice idea. In January, you start a new personal playlist e.g. ‘Tunes of 2022’, to which you add your current favourite songs throughout the year and tracks which evoke particular memories. When you listen to your playlists you are transported back in time, recalling memories based on music. Although I’ve not specifically done this, I know that when certain songs come on the radio I’m reminded of nights out at university, hitting the dancefloor, writing out or printing lyrics and learning every single word to sing along, wedding night songs including our first dance, favourite bands and artists we’ve been to see, trips to the theatre, movies we’ve enjoyed and many other fun times throughout the years. In fact, I read some information online this afternoon which suggested that playlists can be a particularly useful tool to create for elderly loved ones to help elicit memories of times gone by.
1 second everyday – video journalling
This is a video recording app (1SE for short) which enables users to create a video journal by recording meaningful one second movies for a myriad of everyday aspects of their lives. Each short video is stitched together sequentially to create a seamless record. So, for example, you might create a series of video during the month of November featuring a book cover of a novel you’re particularly enjoying, the crashing waves at the beach whilst on an Autumnal walk, your nails after applying a pretty nail polish, a finished craft project, coffee and cake at a new cafe you’ve tried, the smile of a friend during a good catch up, the rain lashing against your window that started just after you got home, a new recipe that you’re about to give a go and all of the ingredients lined up along the countertop etc.
Line a day journal
This can be a spread you do in your bullet journal each month which you fill in each day or you can purchase a special notebook that usually has space to record five years’ worth of memories. Whichever format you choose, it is meant to be something that you can quickly complete at the end of each day to summarise things such as events, experiences, things you are grateful for, purchases made, something nice someone said, something kind you did for a friend or a stranger etc.
I hope you’ve found today’s post interesting and useful and that it’s prompted you to think about the different ways in which you can create wonderfully happy memories, keep and cherish them. Some people prefer to keep digital records whilst others, like myself, prefer to create tangible journals which can be flicked through and talked about with family members or friends. If you’re interested in finding out more about making and remembering memories, I definitely recommend you check out Meik Wiking’s book. He’s recently re-released it under another name ‘Happy Moments: How to Create Experiences You’ll Remember for a Lifetime’ but the content is the same. I like to buy this kind of book rather than purchasing the e-version as then I can more easily highlight parts I particularly want to remember and then flick through the pages whenever I wish to.
Do you enjoy creating journals or photo albums full of happy memories or do you find yourself flicking through digital albums on your phone and thinking about how you should really print a few of the photos off in case you have an issue with your cloud storage one day?
Last week in my blog post, I wrote about the winter blues which many of us experience during the darker months of the year. As part of my practical tips, I talked about keeping yourself warm and cosy. Today, I’m going to take this a little further, looking at the concept of hygge, what it means and how we can embrace the idea to improve our wellbeing during the autumn/winter time.
What exactly is hygge?
According to Oxford dictionaries online, hygge is:
a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)
Popular Danish author Miek Wiking explains in his book:
Hygge is about an atmosphere and experience, rather than about things. It’s about being with people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down.
The Little Book of Hygge
Elements of hygge and creating what Miek describes as a ‘hyggely atmosphere’ include soft textures, warmth, natural greenery – bringing the outdoors in, candlelight, togetherness, being present, comfort, pleasure, peacefulness, sharing and showing gratitude.
Ways in which we can embrace the hygge life this autumn/winter
There are so many ways to bring hygge into your life that whole books have been written on the topic such as Miek Wiking’s Little Book of Hygge. Today, I’m going to give some decor ideas which you can put in place in your home to create an atmosphere of hygge and a number of suggestions of activities you might like to try to evoke feelings associated with hygge living. I hope these will help make your autumn and winter a wonderful time which is full of happy memories and blissful feelings.
A great way to create a cosy and intimate feeling in your home is with soft lighting. This can be achieved in a number of ways e.g. by using lamps with low wattage bulbs rather than bright pendant lights, dotting candles around (battery operated if you have young children or want to place them somewhere small or in a high traffic area) or mood lights – those ones which cycle through different colours are nice. As well as my little battery-operated set of three candles, we recently invested in a string of starburst lights and we have them hanging from a hook on the ceiling in the corner of our dining area – they look fantastic and are great for ambience when we’re enjoying a homecooked meal.
Adding chunky knits in neutral colours such as cream, taupe, pale greys, ivory and of white in the living area of your home (and maybe your bedroom) helps to create a feeling of warmth and can be especially useful on chilly evenings. A selection of blankets and throws in a wicker basket or positioned on the arms of a sofa looks great and are close at hand when needed. Choosing different textures also makes for a tactile experience too. We like to have plenty of cushions in a range of different fabrics on our chair and sofa to make them super comfortable.
Greenery and nature
Bringing the outdoors in is another aspect of instilling a hygge vibe in your home. This can be achieved in a number of ways. Collecting nature items on a woodland or forest walk can be great fun – this could include conkers, acorns, pine cones, colour changing fallen leaves, sprigs of holly, spruce tree branches etc. When you get them home, I recommend leaving them giving them a gentle shake outside and leaving them on a white sheet of paper for a while so that any residing creatures can escape.
Displaying photos of scenery, wildlife, yourself and your family out and about in natural environments can remind you of happy times outdoors. You might choose an image from one of your favourite walks, stunning landscapes e.g. hills or mountains, waterfalls and rivers or close ups of nature (macro shots) such as berries hanging from a tree branch, interesting fungi or lichen on a tree etc.
There’s often home decor made from nature items available in home and lifestyle stores which can be picked up relatively cheaply, For example we have a glittery hedgehog made from pine cones and a reindeer which has bark attached to its front and ears. They both really twinkle in candlelight too!
And, if you spend a lot of time on your computer, tablet or phone a lovely idea is to choose a natural scene as your wallpaper or nature items as your screen lock or homepage. You can also sometimes get notebooks with patterned covers which would look great on your desk. This could be winter scenes, cute wildlife e.g. hedgehogs, squirrels and deer or flora such as poinsettias, holly or seasonal trees.
Most Danish homes will have a cosy nook as a space for relaxation. This is usually somewhere comfortable to sit which has all of the hyggely elements – soft lighting in the form of candles or lamps, blankets and cushions, natural elements – the Danes love wood, tactile elements and a good book or magazine to read. In our living room, we have a gorgeous, swivel chair in a dark pink, soft velvet which is next to the window. There’s a table there with a cute hedgehog coaster on for a hot drink and a selection of books and magazines. We also have blankets nearby on our settee although it’s rarely cold when we sit there as it’s right next to the radiator. Can you think of a place in your homer where you could create a similar cosy nook? What would be your comforting essentials?
Indulgent foods and drinks
Although I recommend a diet which is balanced, varied and on the whole healthy, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the odd treat and as pleasure is another element of the hygge life, I recommend indulging every now and then. Trying new things e.g. different flavours will add to the experience. Why not sample a flavoured hot chocolate such as mint or salted caramel, choose a previously untried dessert from your local supermarket or bakery to enjoy with family or friends or just on your own when you’re relaxing, or pick out a different nice sounding coffee blend instead of your usual? Or, you could have a go at creating a dessert using a recipe you found on Pinterest. I know that my husband and I often tried out new main courses but rarely do homemade puddings. Cooking can be a great way of spending fun and quality time together too!
Family and spending quality time with them is very important to the Danes. The same goes for good friends too. Being hyggely is all about getting together in the home and doing things either as a family on a small scale, extended family or a group of friends. I have lots of ideas for doing this but here are a few to get you started:
movie night – pick one of your favourites that you’ve seen a few times so that if you start chatting it won’t matter
tv series binge watch – ask everyone to bring a tasty snack
games evening – Scrabble, Jenga, Monopoly, Cluedo, Kerplunk, dominoes, card games etc. depending on the ages and abilities of the participants
afternoon tea – think tiny sandwiches and mini cakes along with a selection of warm drinks
candlelit dinner – intimate dinner for two or with the kids, just make sure you ban mobile phones at the table so the conversation flows!
jigsaw puzzle – we like 1000 piece ones which take a while and they’re big enough for more than one person to work on at once
pajama party – this could include lots of decadent foods (everyone could bring something to share) and hot chocolate (with a choice of toppings) or beauty treatments such as face packs, manicures and foot spas.
holiday preparation – if you’ve booked a holiday somewhere else in the country or abroad, a nice thing to do is get a feel for the place before you go. This could include finding out about things to do there, places to visit, popular food stuffs, traditions and the language. If you’re heading overseas, you might even watch a film or TV series which is set in your chosen location.
Photo memories night – why not spend an evening reminiscing over previous times spent together by looking through old albums or journals?
Whichever kind of get together you choose, it should be really informal if you want it to be a hyggely occasion. The Danes prefer slow and simple living, anything flashy is completely frowned upon!
Being grateful for all that you have is, according to Miek, another key element of hygge. Why not start a gratitude practice where you spend 10 minutes each morning or evening considering what you’re thankful for. Try to choose experiences and feelings as well as material things, for example, the chance to sit out in the sunshine and listen to the birds in your garden, a text message from a friend asking how you are and if you’d like to meet for coffee next week, a riveting TV drama series that you’re hooked on.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my ideas for creating a hygge atmosphere in your home. I haven’t read Miek’s Little Book of Hygge yet but it’s on my TBR list. I noticed he’s also recently released a new book called My Hygge Home – How to make home your happy place and if it’s of the standard of his earlier titles, I’m sure this is well worth a read too. Let me know in the comments if hygge sounds like a feeling you would love to have in your home and which of the ideas you would be interesting in trying.