Definition: (ˈh(y)o͞oɡə,ˈho͝oɡə/: a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).
“You cannot buy the right atmosphere or a sense of togetherness. You cannot hygge if you are in a hurry or stressed out, and the art of creating intimacy cannot be bought by anything but time, interest and engagement in the people around you.” ― Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well
Can I talk about late fall and winter without discussing hygge?
Spoiler. No, I cannot.
Hygge is a way of life - thank you, Danes - that I have been following for about…errrrr… five years now. I learned about hygge before the 2016 craze that hit the US. The term was introduced to me while researching “happiness in children, public schools, and thriving education systems from around the world.” It was around this time that the UN started releasing the World’s Happiness Report. I read about the children's breakfast, dinner time togetherness, and the cold weather in Denmark while focusing on the educational aspects.
A LITTLE CONTEXT: DANISH HAPPINESS
Nonetheless, the funny thing is that it wasn't the first occasion I overlooked the Danish culture. I was introduced to the happiness, the slender socio-economic income gap, and the educational support system in Denmark by Queen Oprah while finishing up my Masters. I thought the social and political elements were intriguing but chalked them up as being the cultural comfort that occurs when you are amongst a homogenous population (a group that shares many aspects of your identity). Let's be clear - diversity is fascinating and enriching, but it's not always "comfortable." Additionally, the benefits of being a part of a population that (now) has complete autonomy (no colonization, slavery, systematic oppression, greedy capitalism, etc.) are mind-blowing.
Just because I’m sidetracked, and in case you are wondering, the top five happiest countries in 2019: Finland (second year), Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and the Netherlands. That said, for many years the top countries in happiness have been Latin and South American countries. In fact, based on Gallop researchers' "positive experience index score," the top ten happiest countries were Latin American. Costa Rica is a country that tops all of the happiness research reports consistently and across the board. The United States (2019) is number 19 despite being the most powerful nation in the world and having seen increase economically. Here's a random, but interesting read on the African countries’ rankings. But this piece isn’t about world happiness, is it?
HYGGE, AUTUMN, AND POLEPOLE
“Hygge is humble and slow. It is choosing rustic over new, simple over posh and ambiance over excitement. In many ways, hygge might be the Danish cousin to slow and simple living.” - Wikings
Around 2014, I was a new mom completing research while also teaching at a charter school. In the late fall and winter months, I was getting up early to go to work (it was dark) and returning home when it was dark - the cycle was weighing on my mental health. And so, when I read about the happiness and rhythms of these cold dark places, I needed to know more. And that led me to hygge. Friends, it was a game-changer!
Now, if you read NOTHING else, let me say that it is a LIFESTYLE. DO NOT. DO NOT. DO NOT BUY ANYTHING “HYGGE.” That said, in my electronic library I have a few books with hygge vibes but none are as to the point as Wiking’s book. In it, he says, “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down.”
INCORPORATING HYGGE IN YOUR AUTUMN FLOW.
Close your eyes (later): Remember that time when you took a hot shower/bath (HYGGE). Slavered on the lavender oil (HYGGE). Put some Vaseline on your feet and then covered them in thick comfy socks (HYGGE). You then wandered into the kitchen and made yourself a hot drink (HYGGE). Then you dimmed the lights, put on a candle or two before grabbing a hardcopy book to read… chile… you just hoo-gad (hygge) on top of hygged.
And listen, even if you don’t do anything extraordinary but just sit down after a long day to stare out the window, all while eating a piece of (fair trade, sustainable) chocolate and give thanks for being alive... You’ve practiced hygge.
For me, it’s about keeping lights faint, sipping warm drinks, praying over my home, and reducing distractions. It doesn’t have to be electronic-free either. Wiking says, “Fredagshygge [Friday]/Søndagshygge [Sunday] Hygge you have on Fridays or Sundays. After a long week, fredagshygge usually means the family curling up on the couch together watching TV. Søndagshygge is about having a slow day with tea, books, music, blankets, and perhaps the occasional walk if things go crazy.”
Hygge is whenever you feel the coziest or have a sense of well-being. Oiling and massaging your scalp, and then re-twisting your hair in the candlelight - these moments are the abundance of every day. At times, my moments of hygge are quiet breaks where I am just listening to the wind and journaling (happy thoughts, grateful thoughts, frustrations, fears, everything). I think the way I see hygge (at times) is best described by J. Autherine, Wild Heart, Peaceful Soul: Poems and Inspiration to Live and Love Harmoniously
“She is a beautiful, powerful bad--- woman who sometimes falls apart inside after she drops her bags by the door and tosses her stilettos. Her vulnerability at night helps her to rise stronger in the morning."
It's the moments of comfort. Taking off the mask. Striping to the bare minimum (figuratively). Slowing down. Putting on something comfortable. Drinking and eating something nourishing... and then allowing the process of soothing (inner-self, your physical self, your family, your friends) to take place.
As Wiking says, "Hygge is about giving your responsible, stressed-out achiever adult a break. Relax. Just for a little while. It is about experiencing happiness in simple pleasures and knowing that everything is going to be okay."
I’ve included the Hygge Manifesto, just in case you want to incorporate some hygge into your late fall rhythm.
1. ATMOSPHERE: Turn down the lights.
2. PRESENCE: Be here now. Turn off the phones.
3. PLEASURE: Coffee, chocolate, cookies, cakes, candy. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!
4. EQUALITY: “We” over “me.” Share the tasks and the airtime.
5. GRATITUDE: Take it in. This might be as good as it gets.
6. HARMONY: It’s not a competition-we already like you. No need to brag about achievements.
7. COMFORT: Get comfy. Take a break. It’s all about relaxation.
8. TRUCE: No drama. Let’s discuss politics another day.
9. TOGETHERNESS: Build relationships. “Do you remember the time we...?”
10. SHELTER: This is your tribe. This is a place of peace and security.
― Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living
Edited by Ashley Yancey