I hope you are well. This month I want to share with you about ‘Hygge’ – a lifestyle I heard about from a lovely woman in a group I was facilitating, when we were having a discussion about the difficulties some people experience in the winter months.
Hygge is a phenomenon first documented in 18th Century Denmark and has apparently been crucial to the Danes ever since.
The Danes put their happiness down to Hygge, a particular lifestyle pronounced ‘hoo-guh’ or ‘ hue-ugh’. it involves a feeling of comfort and contentment, as well as indulging in all the good things and people in your life. In ‘The Little Book of Hygge’, the author Meik Wiking defines it as ‘togetherness, relaxation, indulgence, presence and comfort’.
According to the World Happiness Report, people who live in Denmark are the happiest people in the world. It could have something to do with minimum wages being £20 per hour, with powerful unions advocating for workers. Or it could be that Denmark has one of the world’s narrowest wealth gaps and a social safety net that provides free healthcare and education and subsidised childcare.
They are reputedly amongst the most generous in the world and citizens report having strong social support networks, meaning they have friends and family to turn to in times of hardship. They are less materialistic than other cultures appreciating low-cost activities and the simple things in life.
The Danish are also known for being kind to themselves. This, in turn makes them happier and nicer to each other. ‘Research shows that people who are able to be kind to themselves rather than harshly self-critical tend to have better mental health and higher life satisfaction’ according to Dr Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness. He goes onto say that ‘Allowing ourselves some hygge time to boost our own wellbeing leaves us better placed to contribute and help others. The most important contributor to our psychological wellbeing is the strength of our relationships and hygge definitely tends to encourage more close and intimate time with loved ones’.
It is hugely appealing to me because I have experience of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) in the winter months, I use a light box, take extra vitamins, ensure I get outside every day and keep in touch with family and friends, when often I feel like hibernating through the winter. So when I heard about hygge and that it encourages you to enjoy and take a pleasure out of the dark nights and the cold, I was really interested.
In Britain we already do hygge to some extent by lighting our fires, pulling the curtains on and curling up on our settees… reading, watching television or being with friends having a cuppa.
Other ways to do hygge would be to put your PJ’s on the radiator, bake a cake and invite folk round to share it, wearing a big comfy woolly jumper or enjoying a glass of wine, guilt free.
Studies show a clear link between gratitude and wellbeing, it can be really helpful to our wellbeing to have a gratitude ritual. For example, like thinking of at least five things you are grateful for every night before going to sleep, or perhaps spending time thinking of past happy experiences.
Hygge is largely about making the ordinary special or meaningful, through ritualising everyday activities such as making a cup of coffee or having dinner. It is about taking pleasure in the simple things.
To me hygge also sounds very much like mindfulness and I would explain mindfulness as not worrying about the past or being concerned about the future but focusing right now on the present moment. When I do catch myself being caught up in worry, I stop, have a quiet moment and focus on the present minute and I ask myself what is there to be concerned about right now in this minute and each time my answer has been nothing and this calms me and enables me to appreciate the good in my life right then.
A more hygge-focused culture could contribute not just to happier individuals and families but also to more caring communities and a happier society as a whole.
So I invite you to think about how you might make your winter more hygge – more cosy.