Well Adjusted: How Hygge Can Help Your Life
By Dr. Melanie Brown
Originally published in the Mountain Times
It has been refreshing to get some winter sunshine on the mountain lately! But what can we do when the days are dark, gloomy, and cold, and the winter doldrums take hold? The Danes have a lifestyle concept called “hygge” (hyoo-guh). And despite their cold and dark winters, they are generally happier than other countries.
According to recent United Nations Happiness Reports, Nordic countries regularly ranked highest in all six areas of life satisfaction. This report, which started in 2012, was inspired by the King of Bhutan in the Himalayas. He coined the phrase “Gross National Happiness” in contrast with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1972. So, how can WE tap into this Danish concept to improve our quality of life, especially in the winter months?
Defining and Understanding Hygge
First is the attempt to define and understand hygge. You will get different answers if you ask different folks, but the general idea is quiet happiness or stillness. It is being satisfied with how one’s life is going and taking small steps to insert comfort and coziness into your daily routine.
You can find objects and practices that are hyggelig or “hygge-like.” You can also have a hyggelig mentality.
What hygge is not:
- Being on your phone all day
- Being hard on yourself for past mistakes
- Trying to be perfect
- Staying indoors all winter
- Harsh chemicals
- Fluorescent lighting
- Adhering to strict rules
- Excessive spending
- Purchasing products to be “on-trend”
Relationship Between Wealth and Hygge
Although countries with higher GDP are generally happier, a lack of wealth causes unhappiness. Once our basic needs are met, the correlation stops, and the smiles don’t follow the dollar signs. Oliver Enne of Denmark said, “If you have no money, you worry about money, but if you have money, you worry about other stuff!”
Hygge is the opposite of living outside our means. With all the “keeping up with the Jones’s,” we create more chaos and the need for more work in our lives. Instead of focusing on more and more money, hygge focuses on life balance. Overachievers are often hailed in the U.S., but in Nordic countries, they may look at you sideways and wonder what’s wrong with you. Life balance is the goal — not to be best. To be average is considered good — and more hyggelig.
How to Achieve Hygge
A large part of hygge is the art of creating a pleasant atmosphere. How do we achieve this comfort and coziness? You cannot talk about hygge without talking about lighting. The warmer, the better. Candles and salt lamps give us a warm glow.
With closed rooms, stick with unscented or naturally scented candles and air the room regularly. Tasty food, books, fireplaces, music, cozy drinks, small indulgences, the smell of soup cooking on the stove, wool socks, cozy sweaters are all very hygge!
Take some time to make your home hyggelig or pick a spot and make a hyggekrog, or hygge corner. Tidy your space for a clear mind. You don’t have to go to the extremes of Marie Kondo. There is no need to get rid of everything, but see that it has a purpose, even if you just love to look at it.
Nature is essential. You can bring wood and natural fibers, plants and cut flowers into your home — anything to bring the outside in. Also, going outside is very hygge! There is a sense that we must accept the weather rather than hide from it. Get the gear on and meander quietly in nature every day. Move along slowly and try to spot the minute details. Inhale the fresh scent of pine needles and listen to the soothing sounds of the forest. After meals is a wonderful time to take a walk — it also aids in digestion! Time in nature reduces anxiety, promotes wellbeing, and inspires pleasant thoughts.
Embrace Hygge – Indulge in Lazy Days
Here is an excellent hygge concept: have a lazy day, enjoy a massage, and instead of feeling guilty about it, feel good! Be gentle with yourself. For example, don’t ruminate about past occurrences, and don’t put yourself down. Be happy with who you are and the accomplishments you have made. Work hard when you need to, but also rest and honor and nurture your body and mind.
Nightly dinner is an excellent time and place to start your hygge practices. Eat together, encourage everyone to participate in the conversation, light a candle, set the table nicely — and most important, leave the phones in the other room. You can even enjoy the sights and flavors of a purposefully set table if you dine alone. Take a walk after dinner, come back, and light a fire, pray or meditate, call a friend, or read a book while under a cozy blanket.
Even though these hyggelig things may seem small, naming them and recognizing them gives them power. L.T. Baits summed it up nicely when she said, “Hygge is about having less, enjoying more: the pleasure of simply being. It is generous and celebratory, a way to remember the importance of the simple act of living itself.”