Hygge… could this be my new Religion?

Inspired by ‘The little book of Hygge. The Danish way to live well’ by Meik Wiking

It’s a well-known fact by now that the Danes hold some kind of secret to living well and being happy. They consistently rank the highest among all kinds of research. At first I thought that was crazy. I live in Australia, in Queensland, which is known as the Sunshine State. And it’s aptly named… clouds aren’t really our thing. We all know that time in the sunshine, with the bright colours and the warmth makes us happy. So how on earth could it be possible for a nation like Denmark, which has so much darkness and cold, to be happier than Australia?

Hygge could very well be the answer.

I just finished reading ‘The little book of Hygge’ and I think it’s fair to say that I am now one of those newly converted folks who will be annoyingly preaching to all around me. “Hygge will save you!” But jokes aside… it really will…

So what it is?

Hygge is about valuing the time we spend with the people we love, and knowing that spending time with those people is a priority. It’s about savouring the moment and celebrating small joys. It’s about stopping the busyness and just being. And it’s about scheduling these small celebrations into our everyday lives.  And to get the benefit from all of these, there's one skill necessary...  being able to focus your mind on the present moment so that you can actually enjoy each of these celebrations.

As I read about all of the ways to experience Hygge I realised that in my quest for happiness these are the very same habits that I’ve developed without knowing they were Hygge.

For example, before I sat down to write this, I did something I do often. I got myself a piece of my homemade cake. I put it on my prettiest place. I warmed it up so that the chocolate icing would melt. I took a dessert spoon and sat down with the cake in my favourite place to sit (the armchair that is old and ugly and undeniably the most comfortable). My dog sat on my lap, and I took the time to eat my cake slowly, savouring every mouthful, being truly grateful. It was a moment of pure bliss… Hygge.

What surprised me though reading about how the Danes practice it is that instead of it being just something that one person does as a happiness practice, it is completely woven into their culture. Every single person in Denmark knows exactly what you mean when you say ‘let’s have some Hygge time.’ And here is a list of some of the things that they will take as a given:

  1. The lights will be dimmed or there will be candles
  2. Everyone will turn their phones off
  3. There will be something delicious to eat which is most likely homemade
  4. Everyone will help with preparing, cleaning etc
  5. Everyone will be genuinely grateful right here right now
  6. People remember the love that they have for each other and that’s the focus
  7. Everyone will make themselves comfortable
  8. Noone will discuss politics or anything else that is likely to cause a debate
  9. Talking and retelling stories will be big
  10. The overall aim is to connect and enjoy each other’s company

I love it. Australia… can we adopt this? Please?

Because as excited as I was to realise that I already practice a lot of the same habits as Hygge there was one thing that stood out as an issue. Hygge is a little bit like Santa Clause… It only exists if everyone believes.

Here’s what I mean. Imagine that you have decided to embrace Hygge to the benefit of your family and social circle. You invite the people you love over for dinner. You spend all week enjoying planning how it will work. You spend hours in the kitchen (which you love) preparing food. You buy candles. You pick out the right mood music. And then the people start arriving. You’re excited and welcome them with all the love that you feel. Then one person blurts out a complaint about the state of politics… and another whips out the phone to find the article they want to refer too… the energy is lively but slightly aggressive, and instantly your Hygge is gone. And all because the other people in the room didn’t know it was there in the first place.

It can be more subtle than that too… it’s much less Hygge for example, to sit down to a meal prepared by everyone, by candlelight, with wine, and a storm outside when someone is stressing about work, even if the stress is internal. The energy of stress destroys Hygge.

You see in order for this to work, for the magic of Hygge to exist, everyone needs to commit to it. And that in itself, the fact that Denmark has achieved this, is magical.

So can it work in Australia? Can it work in a country that loves shift work and keeping the shops open 7 days a week? In the land of BYO and hard workers? I think it can.

Here’s how I’m planning to bring Hygge into at least my own social circle. I belive that in order for this to work, everyone needs to understand it and agree on how to achieve it.

To start with I’ve convinced my husband to have a dedicated Hygge Friday once a month where we get together with some people we love. And just in the same way that you spell out the dress code for fancy events, I’ll be spelling out the code of conduct for these.

  1. It’s called Hygge Friday because the more we use the word Hygge the more we’ll remember HOW TO Hygge (the Danes, by the way, use the word Hygge all the time. Hygge chair, Hygge pants, Hygge chat, Hygge day etc. I think this is genius. It means you don’t have to go through all the rules every time. Once you say it’s Hygge everyone knows what’s expected)
  2. It’s relaxed, not fancy. Everyone can wear their most comfortable clothes.
  3. Instead of the popular BYO it is always BSTS (Bring something to share)
  4. The aim is to connect, to BE in the moment, so no phones or distractions please
  5. Leave your stress at the door and really enjoy the food and company

So, have I got you interested in bringing Hygge into your life?  Maybe like me it’s already there without you knowing? For me it’s when I walk bare feet on the grass. It’s there when I pick the fruit from my trees and dig around in my veggie garden. It’s there when I lay indulgently in bed well after I’ve woken up or when I spend hours on end cooking up an array of comfort foods to share with my family and friends. It’s there when I look into my daughter’s eyes, with nowhere to go and no feelings of needing to do anything except BE with her.  Knowing that these moments are Hygge, naming them and planning for them makes them even more powerful.

Hygge is pure and simple joy and I hope it’s in your life. And if not? Maybe you should start the revolution… Bring on the Hygge!

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