At some point, we run out of distractions and recipes, and we’re left with a cycle of viral surges that is as stressful as it is tedious.
“Everyone was so determined to get back to normal that they made plans that never happened,” said Ms. Mecking, speaking from her home in the Netherlands, which had just enacted another lockdown to curb rising Covid cases. “It gave people lots of false hope.”
She plans to use the unexpectedly quiet holiday break to do what she does best: nothing. In embracing the niksen philosophy, Ms. Mecking, who is Polish, feels no pressure to level up, despite cultural and social expectations to look busy. “You don’t have to make sourdough bread,” she said. “You don’t have to do anything, really.”
You can just stare at the walls and exist.
Meik Wiking, the chief executive of the Happiness Research Institute, a Copenhagen-based think tank that explores why some societies are happier than others, didn’t seem especially happy the day we spoke over Zoom. His friend, who lives in New York, had recently canceled a holiday trip to Denmark after the country enacted new restrictions. “It’s an annual tradition that we have to shut down the happiness we save for Christmas,” he said.
The Danes, of course, know all about long, dark, lonely winters, and have developed endless coping mechanisms to survive them. Near the top of the list is hygge, a Danish word that sort of rhymes with fugue and is a deeply rooted Scandinavian philosophy of coziness that relies on candles, wool blankets and soup. Mr. Wiking, the author of “The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well,” suggested we look to hygge as a way to respond to the changing conditions around us. We might not be able to control the virus, but we can control dinner.
“The rug did get pulled out from under us, but we’ve done this before, we can do it again,” he said. “Yes, things kind of suck, to put it in scientific terms, but there is still happiness to be had over Christmas and the holidays. We’ll still be able to cook some wonderful, lovely meals.”
A Happiness Institute report on well-being during Covid found that people who crafted or took up D.I.Y. projects reported being happier during the pandemic. But enthusiasm for those activities waned after a few months because, well, how long can we knit with gusto? But the one activity that had the biggest impact on our happiness — getting outside for 15 minutes a day — got more popular as the months wore on. Getting away from the house turned out to be a good thing.