Pronouced Hoo-gha, Hygge is a Danish term that means a quality of coziness and the feeling of contentment that comes from warm spaces and enjoying the good things in life with those you care about.
Hygge is a means of enhancing our well-being. It is about atmosphere and experience. It is a felt sense of comfort and safety and feeling at “home” (whether with people or without). Hygge is also about presence, connection, kindness, comfort, gratitude, harmony, sharing, respect, and joy.
I think Autumn is a perfect time to embrace Hygge and enhance well-being. Hygge encourages us to s-l-o-w things down and be intentional. Hyyge exemplifies the “art of living”.
Hygge is about savouring the things that give you pleasure. What do you like to read, watch, play, do, smell, taste, touch? What makes for a welcoming environment for you? Who do you like to spend time with?
Ideas for embracing Hygge:
Savor your favorite warm drink. Whether it is a coffee. tea, cider, cocoa, or chai, warm drinks are central to the practice of Hygge. Warm beverages encourage us to slow down and be more mindful. Warm drinks also offer a calming effect on our nervous system*. Tea ceremonies have been practiced in Asian cultures for centuries and foster presence and mindfulness. Interestingly, many warm beverages can aid in digestion by fostering the relaxation of stomach muscles (examples include peppermint, ginger, and chamomile tea, as well as a Chinese femented tea known as Pu’er).
*some teas contain ingredients called adaptogens that can stimulate the production of signaling molecules that promote inner balance and muscle relaxation by stimulating the body’s production of GABA and serotonin (both associated with reducing anxiety and increasing mood).
Get cozy. Hyggelig is paramount to contributing Hygge which translates to “cozy”. Cultivate a warm environment with lighting, candles, the warm glow of salt lamp, or a diffuser with your favorite scents. Create actual warmth with heat from a wood stove or fireplace or blankets and comfy clothes.
Make memories. Start a new tradition with your friends or family. This could be weekly games night, a book club, celebrating Winter or Summer solstices or cultural/religious observations, potluck meals, or forest bathing/nature hikes. Unlike a lot of North American social gatherings that often center around large groups of people, Hygge is a way of socializing that aligns well very for introverts: devoting “social time” to loved ones you know very well and have meaningful conversations with in a relaxing and restorative way.
Comfort Food. The Danes appear to be bigtime lovers of baked goods (hello, Danish pastry!) While sweets and pastries are one form of comfort food, there are lots of healthier options too. Cooking and baking are Hygge activities ~ try cooking up a nourishing soup, stew, or pasta sauce with in-season, local fare. Baking is an amazing way to fill the home with olfactory warmth. Alternatively, try cooking over an open fire with friends.
Reading. Somewhere along the way, many of us lost the habit of reading for pleasure because we viewed it as a waste of time (oddly, we will however justify scrolling through social media for hours). Reading is arguably just as nourishing as sleep, warm, food, and drink.
Icelanders have a Hygge-like tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and tuck in for the night reading, while savouring chocolates. The tradition of book-giving is called Jolabokaflod, which translates to “Christmas Book Flood”. Jolabokaflod dates back to World War II when paper was one of the only commodities not rationed. Intention and love were put into the gifting of books, and still are. Iceland has a tiny population of only 329,000 people, yet has more writers, more published books, and more books read, per person, than anywhere in the world. The spirit of Jolabokaflod can easily be initiated in a winter evening or restorative weekend!
Engage in an Act of Community. Bake cookies for a neighbour. Help build a community garden. Donate useable goods to your favorite charity.
For a fun and unique way to foster communication and connection, try a Pantry Party (this idea comes from The Little Book of Hygge, Wiking, 2016, p. 182):
Invite your friends over to your house for an afternoon or evening of cooking and hygge. The rules are simple. Every person brings ingredients to make something that goes in the pantry (or in the fridge). Jam, sweet pickle relish, home-made ketchup, chicken stock, limoncello, pumpkin soup – you name it. Everyone also brings jars, cans, bottles, or containers in a shape that will allow them to store a bounty of home-made treats. The beauty of it is the diversity. Instead of having ten servings of pumpkin soup, you now have mango chutney, ginger beer, pickled chili, baba ghanoush, a loaf of sourdough bread, plum marmalade, elderberry cordial, and raspberry sorbet. Yum.
Journal the Things You are Grateful For. Journaling is a tangible way for us to reflect on the important things in our lives. A gratitude practice has been evidenced to
- blocks adverse emotions (envy, resentment, regret, depression, anxiety, shame)
- it fosters resiliency
- strengthens our social ties
- increases self-compassion and self-worth
- allows for us to be more mindful (present)
- increases our productivity, decision-making skills, and goal achievement
- makes us more optimistic
- makes us more likeable to others
- decreases materialism and self-centeredness
- helps us sleep better and increases energy levels
- improves our physical health (studies show that those who engage in gratitude practices feel less pain, go to the doctor less often, have lower blood pressure, and be less likely to develop a mental disorder)
- makes us more likely to exercise and eat healthier
To make the process of journaling, Hygge find a journal and writing instrument that sparks joy for you and set aside 5-10 minutes either first thing in the morning or before bed to list three things you are grateful for. Make sure you identify things that YOU are authentically grateful for and are personal to you, rather than things that you think others would identify with.
Hygge Helps Us Cultivate an Experience of Expansion
Psychologist and creator of the trauma-specific therapy, Somatic Experiencing, Peter Levine states that joy is an experience of expansion. Cultivating joy is an important component of resilience as it increases our capacity to face difficulties. Neuroscientist, Rick Hanson states that focusing on and absorbing simple moments of joy has a positive cumulative effect on our health. Slowing down to savour pleasant experiences gives our system a chance to hardwire the experience in the brain and weaken our over-developed negativity bias (our tendency to absorb and remember unpleasant experiences and remember potential threats, while disregarding positive experiences). While once incredibly useful, the negativity bias evolved in humans out of our need to survive events like hunting and gathering and not falling victim to poisonous plants or eaten by predators. Seemingly simple occurrences today like feeding ourselves can undoubtedly cause hardship if we are struggling with scarcity and poverty; however, it is arguably not nearly as life-threatening as it once was.
Cultivating Joy Increases Our Overall Well-Being As Evidenced by Neuroplasticity
Difficulties in life are inevitable. It is unrealistic to think there is a prescribed way of living that enables us to sidestep pain, loss, and adversity. Trauma stretches us beyond our capacity to contend with a particular challenging occurrence, and we become overwhelmed with emotions and sensory discomfort. The problem is not that the sensations and emotions are too strong (we humans are meant to feel a full array of these), but our capacity to hold space for them and effectively process them is too limited. Consciously focusing our attention (mindfulness) interrupts procedural responses like negative bias. By voluntarily inhibiting maladaptive procedural responses (such as negative bias, catastrophizing, sensory overwhelm, et cetera), something more adaptive and capacity-building can emerge. By being purposeful in cultivating joy (our own very personalized version of joy), we can step into a place of feeling the discomfort of overwhelm, without knuckling under it.