Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself stressed and tired from constantly aiming to be productive. After a long day/week of work, I allocate my evenings and weekends to finish my to-do list, and have started to feel like productivity does not equate happiness. I stumbled upon the book ‘The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well’ by Meik Wiking and used it as my guide to improve my well-being. Here’s how my week went.
Our culture shapes us to believe that the key to success is to focus on the future, which often means foregoing personal happiness in the present. However, research shows that workaholism increases the risk of depression and anxiety, lowers productivity, decreases work performance, leads to sleep problems and shortened attention spans. I am aware that there is always more to be done – so will I stay perpetually unhappy? As productivity increasingly stands as the default measure of accomplishment, my goal was to instead measure feelings of happiness as my success.
Hygge, pronounced HOO-ga, is a word that the Danish use to describe a cozy feeling, it involves appreciating the small things in life, cozy moments, good fellowship and an absence of any kind of stress. The original word in Norwegian means ‘well-being’ and it can be used as a noun, a verb or an adjective – you can achieve moments of hygge, you can hyggely up your home, and you can buy hyggeish things.
There are several elements to hygge, and these are ones I incorporated to make my life more hyggelig:
1. Cocoon Yourself in Coziness
Hygge combines self-care with creating an environment that feels warm and safe. Making my home more hygge meant getting the lighting right: Dimming your lights (or trying some of these hygge lighting techniques) and lighting a candle is the fast track to hygge-ing and the first thing you should do to transform your atmosphere. An open fireplace can make your home more hygge however living in an apartment, you can instead put on the Yule log channel on Youtube.
The next step is to fill your space with blankets and pillows, unplug from technology and get warm and snug with a cup of tea, coffee or hot cocoa. Wiking mentions that hot drinks are what 86% of Danes associate with hygge, and the Danes’ favourite hot drink is coffee (works great for me).
2. Comfy dark clothing
Dressing like a Dane fit my lifestyle – casual yet stylish with scarfs, monochrome colours, sweaters/jumpers, black leggings and layers. Simplicity, functionality, and modesty are central to hygge, as Wiking says “the more bling – the less hygge.”
Fortunately, cooler weather has already come to my city so I could fully embrace the warm, snug clothing. I also loved the concept of owning and enjoying your Hyggebukser at home – that favorite pair of sweatpants you wouldn’t be caught dead in outside of your home.
I really enjoy this photo that Joshua took of me mid-laugh this week – enjoying a hygge moment.
3. Slow food
Wiking noted that the longer something takes to cook, the more hygge it is and cooking a meal to share together is about as hyggelit as it gets. Hygge is about being kind to yourself – giving yourself a treat, and giving yourself, and each other, a break from the demands of healthy living – so cake, pastries and cookies factor into hygge! I worked on my baking skills and made a marble bundt cake which I enjoyed with Joshua at home (with ice cream) and hyggensnak (cozy, non-controversial conversation). We also shared the cake at our workplaces with coworkers to indulge in hygge together. I baked a second cake, which sadly wasn’t as good, and was eaten by myself.
4. Close company and creating memories
We are social creatures and having close relationships boosts happiness. Over the weekend, my friend Lisa and I had a hyggelige moment close to nature. Walking together on a trail with our dogs meant there were no distractions – just good company, good conversation and being present in the moment. It was also a dull and damp day – so the elements were on track for hygge. We have worked on implementing this in our daily life too – a walk around the block at lunch time without our phones, allows us to return to work relaxed and refreshed.
Working on a hobby at home allows you to switch off and refocus the mind. I brought out my paints and for the first time painted in silence (no TV or music). I also curled up and read for a few solitary hours which made me feel very calm.
6. Embracing the daily pleasures
To truly hygge you need to slow down a bit to take it all in. I’m guilty of rushing in the morning, so this week I took the time to really enjoy my mug of coffee, stay an extra few minutes in the bath and I savoured all the cake – I ate a lot of cake. Hygge is about savouring the moment, and savouring is about gratitude. I allowed myself to focus on moments and appreciate my life – especially during times of frustration (for me, usually on transit).
We all probably practice hygge occasionally, but giving it a name makes it easier to make time for it in our daily lives. I found that hygge is about self-care, valuing my personal happiness, and finding different ways to relax and connect with the people and experiences in my life that bring me joy. It’s no surprise that the brain works much better when you feel positive – I found that I tended to be more creative and better at solving problems too, which helped me to be productive at work versus stressed and tired. Unlike most trends that I try and then return to my usual habits, hygge is a practice that I thoroughly enjoyed and am going to keep integrated in my daily life.
It is important to note that the Danes, and perhaps most Scandinavians are better able to embrace and focus on implementing hygge in their lives, and strive toward a better quality of life, as their basic needs are met: free university education, social security, universal health care, paid family leave, and a month or more of vacation a year.
Hygge can take different forms for each person – it’s ultimately how a moment makes you feel. Are you interested in trying elements of hygge? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.