In this article I look at ways in which we might improve our quality of life and wellbeing, particularly during the cold dark winter months. I turn to Denmark, the country that has attracted much media interest since taking the top spot as happiest country in the 2016 UN happiness rankings out of 156 countries in the world. This is despite Danes paying higher income tax than any other country, at a whopping 56%! Their weather isn’t even that great with their long dreary cold winters with up to 17 hours of darkness in a day.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Happiness Research Institute is based in Copenhagen and has undertaken several decades of research focusing on improving wellbeing, happiness and quality of life across the world.
9/10 Danes according to the institute don’t mind paying higher income tax and investing in society as it brings free healthcare, university education and unemployment benefits, elevating those at the bottom, so reducing extreme unhappiness and anxiety. There is seemingly less of a class divide in Denmark. They have the best work life balance in the developed world with a 35 hour working week, 5 weeks annual leave plus state holidays and generous maternity and paternity leave. The Danish culture is not particularly ostentatious or materialistic, in fact quite understated, instead preferring the simple pleasures in life. Progress is not just measured by money but also by improved quality of life. Perhaps we could all take a leaf from the Danes book.
So how can we bring a little bit of the Danish feel good factor into our every day lives ? Some say Scandinavians have a genetic predisposition to happiness. That said, much of their lifestyle mindset can be exported to other countries to promote a feeling of wellbeing that does not necessarily need to cost much. So what is this?
The Danes have a word for it, called “Hygge” pronounced Hoo-Ga. It is derived from a Norwegian word meaning well-being. It is more of a feeling and can mean focussing on the simple pleasures, hugs, comfort and cosiness, spending time with friends or family, or simply on your own reading a good book with candles and blankets by the fire. It is making ordinary, every day moments more meaningful, beautiful or special.
It is about being kind to your self – indulging and having a nice time – it is not restricting diet or strict New Years resolutions. There is a strong element of social interaction and belonging in an inclusive setting, which may be a simple gathering of friends to play board games, enjoying a meal together, taking a walk or cycling in the countryside, appreciating nature or singing in a choir. It is about being in the present moment and not spending time on social media or work emails at the weekend.
These all have recognised health benefits, for example singing increases oxytocin the happy hormone, which can help reduce pain. Those with strong social ties have a longer life expectancy than those with poor social connections. This difference in longevity is about as large as the mortality difference between smokers vs non smokers and larger than any other health risks associated with many well known lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise and obesity. A strong social life reduces stress and helps the immune system to stay strong.
Of course if the dreaded cold does get the better of you, give yourself permission to rest and recuperate, stay nourished and hydrated. You probably won’t feel much like socialising or going out anyway and staying at home prevents passing it on to others, being particularly mindful of those more vulnerable in the community such as the elderly whose immune systems are more compromised.
If in need here is a list of some of my personal rescue kit of natural remedies for nurturing the immune system, keeping colds at bay and improving wellbeing :
- A few slices of fresh lemon, ginger and honey infused in boiling water, or
- A few sprigs of thyme with honey infused in boiling water – a great soothing respiratory antiseptic that can be grown on the windowsill.
- A few drops of Propolis mixed in cold water. This is what bees use to keep their hives free from infection
- For an occasional boost a weeks supply of Royal Jelly – again bees use this to feed the Queen bee, helping her to live up to 40 x longer.
- Dr Bach rescue remedy for helping to promote relaxation
- Comvita Immune support
- A good multi-vitamin
On the subject of cosy blankets, sleeping under a weighted blanket to feel swaddled is now understood to help improve sleep and reduce anxiety . Seek the guidance of a doctor as this may not be suitable for everyone, for example those suffering from respiratory, circulatory and other conditions.
If you enjoy reading, then one of my personal favourite feel good books is “The Power of Now” by Ekhart Tolle. ‘The Little Book of Hygge” is also good.
When feeling stronger some good walks in the fresh air for building strength are wonderful and even better with a bunch of others for company. The Ramblers Association offer a wide variety of walks and also work to help keep footpaths accessible. From spring onwards they will offer shorter walks for health. Local groups like the Bollington Bridgend Community Centre also offer regular weekly walks.
Touch therapies such as massage and reflexology also promote relaxation and wellbeing and increase levels of the feel good hormone oxytocin. Give yourself permission to take time out, put your feet up and indulge in some relaxation ! You would be in good company, as the well-known TV presenter Julia Bradbury has just listed reflexology as one of the five things together with country walking and her children, that she would not live without.
Article written by Tracy Mills (B.Sc Hons, Genetics), MAR, PRM, ARR, BFRP, for The Macclesfield Local People Magazine issue Feb 2017. Tracy is a full time holistic therapist with a Biomedical research background, passionate about helping you improve your health, wellbeing and quality of life. Her main treatment is Reflexology for promoting relaxation, improving mood and sleep.