Cultures of Appreciation

Adrienne: A second wave of COVID-19 and impending lockdown measures… plus… shorter days, cold weather and less leisurely visiting with friends and family on patios and porches. It can easily feel like everything is being taken away from us right now. But maybe we can learn something from cultures that have long embraced settling in at home during the winter and making the most of freezing temperatures. Our Wellness Columnist Scott McPherson, joins us now. Hi Scott.

Scott: Hi Adrienne

Adrienne: Okay, so listeners have probably guessed who we’re referring to by now… Nordic peoples?

Scott: Yes, we can thank the Nordic nations for this particular– hunkering down– wisdom. So the Danes, Fins, Norwegians, as well as folks from Iceland and Sweden. And even though they’re not technically Nordic, even the Dutch are in there too. The Northern Europeans seem to have an approach to long cold winters in ways that are good training for a pandemic.

Adrienne: And what is it they do so differently in those countries?

Scott: The simplest way to describe it is that, rather than resist winter, they embrace it. And since a COVID lockdown, and hunkering down for winter, have a lot in common, that cultural perspective can really pay off during the second wave.

Adrienne: So it’s a “cultural perspective” that exists in that part of the world, but not here?

Scott: Yeah, here in Canada there are people like me that love winter, some of  your listeners can likely relate to that. But it’s not a dominant cultural perspective. It’s mainly a learned thing for most of us. A lot of people grow up with parents that innocently loath winter… so, we get taught to pay attention to all the negatives about it, like how short the days are, or how cold the night-time lows get. And if we don’t get exposed to alternate and more positive thinking about winter, we’ll generally live-out what we learned as children which means dreading the cold and the feeling of being stuck inside.

Adrienne: So how does this winter positivity or hunkering down positivity, play out in the Nordic countries?

Scott: The biggest thing is, the Nordic cultures have specific words for very particular types of winter appreciation that we don’t really recognize. To come up with those words, they needed to be defined. That means observations were made, then all the things about winter– its cons and it’s pros– got noticed, and then they applied these words to describe all the good stuff they noticed. That winter positivity is a large part of why they’re often at the top of the happiest nations listings. They’re still milking the year for happiness even while it’s cold and dark out.

Adrienne: So Canadians need to work on more favourable language for winter?

Scott: As simple as that seems, yeah. Until we’ve defined something, we can’t really think about it. And it’s that act of appreciation that we feel inside us… That’s what creates our winter well-being. If we haven’t defined positive things to look for, then we can’t find them or start thinking appreciative thoughts about them.

Adrienne: Can we just adopt the terms they’ve come up with?

Scott: Yeah, we just have to remember that, depending on which Nordic person we ask, we’ll get slightly different definitions of these words… because they’re mostly trying to describe an internal feeling, rather than a particular set of conditions. But the main advantage here is the act of defining of the word, not the words themselves Those words are all talking about the same feelings that get associated with really rich, intimate time around winter. For us we can think of it like a mash-up of all our ideas around things like quiet time and coziness. It’s made of stuff like big, soft blankets, quiet solitude, or cuddling up around a fire. It includes stuff like warm slippers, or hot chocolate, or fuzzy sweaters and big hugs. We’re basically looking for all the best things about winter. So, for example, if we traded a microwave dinner, under fluorescent lights, while we watched TV… for something like, comfort food made by mom, at a candlelit table, while we talk to a good friend… then we’d have found the meaningful difference that the terms are referring to.

Adrienne: So, what are some of these ideas formed into words?

Scott: Ha. I’ll start with my apologies to your Nordic listeners for butchering their languages. But we could start with the Dutch word, gezellig. It seems to be the best match for that cataloguing process that has to do with time with friends. So to be able to spot nice things about winter, or a lockdown, we have to know what they are. And gezellig seems a little less focused on being hunkered down at home, it’s more about time with friends, so a winter picnic in a park with a friend could be gezellig. Then we can go to the Norwegian word koselig, or the Swedish word mys, for the coziness part. Those seem slightly tilted toward enjoying the smaller, more intimate details of an activity. And the Danes have the easiest one to say; hygge, which often gets referred to the act of slowing down to appreciate more. And I won’t even try the terms that the Finns and the Icelandic have. I’m sure they’ll understand why. But they seem to be more about surrendering into the challenge of winter. The Finns even have one just for coming home, taking off your pants and getting drunk.

Adrienne: I can see what you mean by the words being “forms of appreciation.” So is it just a matter of us really getting serious about the upsides to winter… or a COVID lockdown?

Scott: Yeah, we have to mine that stuff for value. Ignoring those upsides to think about dark days and low temperatures is obviously going to leave us feeling worse. We have to see the cold (or the lockdown), as being the necessary context for the coziness. Without the cold, or the virus, we might be out and about, and missing out on our share of koselig, or hygge. And we all know that welcome feeling around actually wanting a night in. That’s basically us, nurturing those more positive feelings, just by accounting for them.

Adrienne: So how can we make this practical for our listeners? What can they specifically do to help with the lockdown, and with the short winter days?

Scott: The first thing we can do is take some time to really think about what we like about quiet, cozy time. That’s what the daily meditations from my blog have been focusing on. Those other cultures learn that act of appreciation by osmosis, as they grow up. Here, we have to teach it to ourselves. So we have to consciously collect an actual list of positive things to focus on. Without that, someone could be studying for a test, in a bright room, while they think lots of fearful thoughts about failing. But, if we’ve accounted for this other kind of value, then that same studying can be done in a comfortable chair, with a lamp that creates a nice pool of warm light. And we can drink some hot chocolate while we think about how happy we are about getting a good education. One way has us caught up in pointless negative thinking about the future, and the other has us appreciating the present moment. That’s a big difference.

Adrienne: Okay, so we have to know what these things are to be able to find them. Once we’ve found them, is there anything special we have to do to ensure we stay in that positive state of mind?

Scott: Yeah. We have to nurture that focus. We have to slow down and actually allow our minds to linger on that value. Then we’re not just doing things, we’re consciously doing them in a positive context. And changing the context can completely change how it feels to do anything –like the studying example. And lots of things that apply to winter also apply to COVID lock-downs. So it’s still just a matter of how skilled we are at finding things to appreciate. And the way we get better at that, is through practicing that appreciation.

Adrienne: Thank you Scott.

Scott: My pleasure, stay warm.

Adrienne: Scott McPherson is our Wellness Columnist. He teaches mindfulness in Edmonton. Find him at, and on Twitter and Facebook.


For those who may be unaware of it, I regularly have the pleasure of discussing mindfulness practices with Adrienne Pan, the co-host of Radio Active on CBC Radio One. You can listen via AM740, FM93.9 (in Edmonton), through the CBC Listen app, or via the web on Radio One at We’re normally on a Tuesday 5:20pm, although this week we’ll be on at 3:40 due the announcements about the new COVID restrictions.

Once the show has aired, if there is an audio version available I will add a link to it here. A listing of all of the columns is here. For those without audio versions, I will attach a transcript of the column to this post, after its airing.

Today’s topic:

We’re all about gratitude during the second wave, so what are your favourite things about hunkering down and cuddling up? And if you could use even more ideas, today Adrienne and I will be talking about how some cultures have some very positive ways to cope with the shorter, colder days of winter. And it turns out that those methods can also help us while we face the restrictions associated with the second wave of COVID-19. (Note, we’ll be on at 3:30pm today)

Consider checking us out. If you’ve never heard the CBC Radio Active show before, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. They have a great team.

Take care everyone.

peace. s