Finding Hygge – the Danish Path to Coziness and Contentment
In the most delightful synchronicity, my local film institute is screening “Finding Hygge” this weekend, a documentary about the Danish way to live well. Hygge (hyooguh) is variously translated as contentment, cozy togetherness, taking pleasure in soothing things, the absence of annoyance.
At the same time, my friend Lynn has gifted me with The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. Denmark is consistently ranked by the United Nations World Happiness Report, the OECD Better Life Index, and the European Social Survey as leading the world in factors of happiness.
An exploration of hygge also synchronistically fits in the transition of these posts from emotional intelligence (April 2018) to relational intelligence (coming in May and June, 2018) Wiking acknowledges that universal free health dare, free university education, and 5 weeks of paid vacation per year certainly reduces stress among the Danes and contributes to security and ease of mind. He also has found that cuddling upon a sofa with a loved one and sharing comfort food with close friends are reliable contributors to hygge.
Other European countries have their own words for similar practices to cultivate contentment and ease: koselig in Norway, gezelligheid in the Netherlands, gemuetlichkeit in Germany. All agree – an experience of hygge includes experiences of being with the people we love, a feeling of home, a feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and able to safely let our guard down. As Wiking says, “You may be having an endless conversation about the small or big things in life – or just be comfortable in each other’s silent company – or simply just be by yourself enjoying a cup of tea.”
The Little Book of Hygge includes in its “Hygge Manifesto”:
1. Atmosphere – soft gentle lighting and candlelight, furnishings of natural materials pleasant to touch, blankets and cushions to lounge in, soft music, even quiet and stillness, books and photo albums to enjoy and re-treasure.
2. Coziness and comfort – curling up and resting in a favorite comfy chair with fleece or wool blankets, relaxing in casual, comfy clothes, enjoying a moment of respite and refuge.
3. Presence – simply being and enjoying being, a refuge from being plugged into work or phones.
4. Togetherness – sharing a picnic in the backyard or a quiet evening at home with friends. (Perhaps because of the long, cold, dark winters, the Danes prefer gathering in small groups of close friends at home rather than socializing “out.”)
5. Harmony – a resonant reciprocity of talking and sharing, no competition, no boasting, more humble harmony than perhaps Americans are accustomed to.
6. Truce – aligned with harmony, forgoing the drama of political debates; relishing common ground, common humanity.
7. Equality – which allows for more sharing of tasks and mutual airtime in the conversations.
8. Shelter – all of this leads to feeling secure in your place in the tribe, at peace in the large society.
9. Pleasure – all of the above supports the enjoyment, even indulgence, of good food, good chocolate, good wine or tea shared with good friends.
10. Gratitude – taking in the pleasure and the peacefulness – ahhhh, life is good.]
[You’ll be able to learn many, many more practices to cultivate hygge in The Resilience Toolkit, forthcoming in September 2018.]
The Little Book of Hygge does acknowledge that candles emit more particulates into the air than cigarettes or pollution from the average city street (who knew?). Opening windows and freshening the air after a good night of hygge is part of hygge. There’s also a potential overload of calories in so much sharing of sugary sweets and good mulled wine. Wise hygge would concentrate on the sharing and togetherness of the hyggelig conversations.
The happiest hours of my life have been spent in the flow of affection among friends.
– Thomas Jefferson (attributed)
As I learn to cultivate hygge, I notice that hygge may evoke more oxytocin – the neurotransmitter of safety and trust, bonding and belonging, calm and connect – and serotonin – the neurotransmitter of calm and contentment – than dopamine – the neurotransmitter of pleasure and reward. May we all learn practices that cultivate oxy-dopa-tonin and come to a true sense of well-being.