Hygge (HOO-GAH), a mindful positive perspective.

Denmark is regularly ranked as one of the world’s happiest countries in spite of averaging between 1-2 daily hours of sunshine through the winter months. Since 2012, the United Nations has surveyed 155 countries across the globe and Denmark has captured the top spot three times in the last six years. Since Denmark also averages 179 days of precipitation a year, I became interested as to how these folks stay so darn happy! It couldn’t be the weather, or could it?

Through Googling my curiosity, I became aware of the Danish phenomenon of Hygge pronounced (hoo-gah). According to Helen Russell, author of A Year of Living Danishly, Hygge is a word of Norwegian origin first documented in 18th-century Denmark and has been a crucial part of Danish culture ever since. There is no literal translation of Hygge, but it is commonly inadequately translated as “coziness”. Natilie Van Deusen, Professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Alberta, states that: “The best translation is coziness, but not the physical coziness that you get when you put on a sweater or cuddle up with a blanket. It’s more of a state of mental balance and psychological well-being.”

Professor Van Deusen further describes Hygge as working to find deeper meaning within ordinary life. She states that winter is a natural time to slow down and embrace the little luxuries that everyday life offers, such as a hot cup of coffee or good conversation. Van Deusen reports that by turning ones focus to appreciate the everyday, a sense of familiarity, comfort, and kinship is developed throughout winter.

In his book, The Little Book of Hygge, author Mike Wiking describes ten key components that he refers to as the Hygge Manifesto. Due to the scope of this article, I cannot share all ten in detail, but I will share the ones that I think may be most helpful in working to embrace winter.

  • Presence- Hygge is about experiencing, savoring, and being mindful of the present moment. Mindfulness, defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. Again, Hygge cultivates mindfulness by being present and focusing on moments with family and friends rather than thinking about your intradepartmental meeting that is happening next Tuesday. 
    Mindfulness is a skill that is for most folks developed overtime. If you are interested about additional methods to help you develop your mindfulness practice check out the article Meditation That Fits You.  

  • Atmosphere- Hygge is often referred to as the art of creating intimacy. To create a cozy and intimate atmosphere during the winter months the Danes rely heavily on candlelight and soft lighting. More than half of the population of Denmark light candles on a daily basis and Danes strategically place their lamps to create soothing pools of light in their homes. Danes also utilize fireplaces, blankets and cushions, as well as natural materials such as wood, leaves, and animal skins to decorate their spaces. 
    One will also find that the majority of Danish homes contain a Hyggekrog, which roughly translates to a “nook”. It is a place in a room where Danes snuggle up in a blanket, with a book, and a cup of tea. A Hyggekrog is usually placed near a window to foster additional feelings of home, comfort, and shelter.   

  • Pleasure- Food and drink is a vital component of Hygge. The taste of Hygge is generally familiar, sweet, and comforting. Hygge can be a hearty stew, popcorn, coffee, porridge, tea, cake, breads, or pastries. Hygge is about being kind to yourself and giving yourself and each other a break. Hygge is allowing yourself to eat the foods you enjoy while centering yourself to help you notice the foods with all your senses. 
  • Gratitude- Hygge helps individuals develop gratitude because it is all about savoring simple everyday pleasures rather than looking forward to that big vacation two years from now. Through gratitude, people generally identify that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. Gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power. Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. If you are wondering about additional methods to help you develop gratitude check out the article In Praise of Gratitude 
  • Togetherness- Hygge is about connection and sharing close relationships in which you share experiences, feel understood, and both give and receive support to and from others. Danes value socialization and 78% of the population report socializing with friends, family, or colleagues a minimum of once a week.  

In short, these are five of the ten elements of the Hygge Manifesto as described by author Mike Wiking in his book: The Little Book of Hygge. If you are interested in learning more about embracing winter through Hygge there are multiple books published about the subject, or you can check out this video. Wishing you all Happy Hyggestunds! (Hoogastun)- A moment of Hygge.

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