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7 Secrets to Staying Happy When It's Cold and Dark Outside

The holidays are over, the days are still short and cold, and spring feels like a loooong way off. But that doesn't mean you're doomed to feel down. In fact, the happiest people in the world live somewhere with really limited daylight hours—Denmark. Their secret is "hygge," a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being, says Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen and author of The Little Book of Hygge. Here's how you can incorporate elements of that philosophy into your everyday life—and stay cheery all season long.

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1. Light a bunch of candles.

More than half of Danes light candles almost daily during the fall and winter. They're "obsessed with lighting," says Wiking, choosing lamps and strategically placing them to create "soothing pools of light." Candles add to the happy atmosphere by providing a soft, warm atmosphere, with light that is similar to what you'd find in the hour after sunrise or before sunset. (Here are the hygge items you need to stay cozy this winter.)

2. Start a new winter tradition.

Spending lots of time with friends and family is crucial to a sense of hygge. And while you may have tons of social traditions surrounding the December holidays (gift exchanges, parties, etc.), it's important to keep that going throughout the rest of the season. "Start a new winter tradition with friends or family," says Wiking. "It might be playing board games on Fridays or a monthly cooking club. Any meaningful activity that will knit the group more tightly together."

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3. Find a cause you care about.

Whether you take on a project in your school, community, or a larger organization, it gives you a sense of personal purpose, says Malene Rydahl, author of Happy As a Dane. This sort of individual responsibility toward others and participating in something greater than oneself is a central value to Danish life, she says. "When you have purpose in your life, you just don't care about the weather."

4. Indulge a little.

Giving yourself a treat is central to hygge, so pastries, hot chocolate, and cake are plentiful. But that doesn't mean you can't balance hygge and healthy eating. Carrot sticks might not fit, but popcorn does, "especially if you share a bowl with a friend," says Wiking. Cooking something slow on a weekend afternoon, like simmering a pot of healthy stew while you curl up with a book, "is the essence of hygge." (Try one of these 9 healthy crockpot recipes.)

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5. Create a cozy nook.

"The one thing every home needs is a hyggekrog," says Wiking. That roughly translates as a nook—the place you snuggle up with a blanket, a mug of tea, and a good book. Make your cozy spot especially Danish by decorating it with elements of nature, like leaves and twigs.

6. Take time to recharge.

Back to logging long hours at your desk after a holiday break from work? Remember that breaks are essential to creativity and innovation, says Rydahl. You'll perform better if you prioritize life as well as work. So find a space where you can recharge your batteries by spending time with your family and friends.

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7. Get outside.

Don't think that hygge translates to being stuck indoors. That cozy feeling of curling up by a fire feels even warmer after you've spent a day in the snow, says Wiking. (Run or bike outside with our tips on staying warm during winter workouts!) It can be as thrilling as sleigh riding, or as simple as a winter hike. (And follow it up with a winter picnic basket with tea or mulled wine!)

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