COVID-19 has caused uncertainty, darkness and chaos in our day to day lives. We do not know when this unstable period will end and so for now, social isolation is the new normal in many countries around the world. As the Starks would say ‘Winter is Coming’ which will soon quadruple our gloominess by its dreaded short and chilly days. Fortunately, Danish culture has a defining characteristic ‘Hygge’ which helps in tackling these bleak wintery days by indulging in feelings of warmth, security and intimacy. Oxford Dictionary defines Hygge as, “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.”
Derived from the 16th-century Norwegian word ‘Hugga’, the Danes use Hygge as a part of their everyday lifestyle and it seems to work great for them. The United Nations World Happiness Report ranked Denmark as the second happiest country in the world in 2019!
Perhaps one of the reasons why people are so attracted by Hygge is because of how different it is from the typical glorified workaholic culture we see everywhere. While we are constantly finding ways to be productive, simple things like being happy and comfortable have become rare. Danes proudly proclaim Hygge as a unique cultural identity, a way of lifestyle that focuses on making their homes and lives more cherishable and appreciable which might be one of the many causes that make Denmark home to one of the happiest societies in the world.
How should one practise Hygge?
Most cultures already practise Hygge, although they might not have attributed a specific term for it. It is simply referred to as the feeling of deep contentment after a picnic with friends or a movie night with a loved one. It is not the heavily commercialized concept that has been gaining traction recently in the market where objects like fancy candles and luxurious blankets are advertised as a way to experience Hygge. One does not really need materialistic things to be able to bask in the warmth of this cosy feeling.
“Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of being at home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down,” says Meik Wiking in The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living.
Feelings are experienced uniquely by every individual so while one may experience Hygge after spending quality time with friends and family, someone else may feel so after spending some time alone. Being mindful about ourselves and the ways in which we best experience comfort and cosiness are one of the most primary features of Hygge. This simple yet powerful form of self-care goes a long way in reminding ourselves to be grateful of the little joys in our life — from admiring the auburn leaves in fall to making dinner while dancing away to Spice Girls.
One does not really need to make huge lifestyle changes for this, little things like taking time to unwind by lighting candles after returning from work, changing into snug loungewear, staying a couple of extra minutes in the shower to dance away to our favourite songs can noticeably make our days better. This seemingly insignificant extra attention is such an attractive alternative to merely getting our tasks done, especially in the pandemic.
This year has caused grief, loneliness and immeasurable losses to all of us. Acknowledging these feelings while taking care of ourselves is a huge step in the right direction to self-heal. Hygge offers us an alternative approach to ride out this seemingly never-ending pandemic by doing small things like balancing our work-life, allowing ourselves to be more present at the moment, taking care of ourselves through mundane activities like brewing a fresh cup of coffee or cuddling in with our cherished novels. As bad as this year has been, it too shall pass so don’t forget to check in on yourself by getting your hygge this winter!