How Danish "hygge" is self-care
May 31, 2019
I write a lot about self-care which I firmly believe should be
- easy to do
- low/no cost and
- not add time to one’s already busy day.
When I discovered The Little Book of Hygge (on a shelf in the laundry room in my apartment building where people share books), I was curious to read how hygge (hoo-ga) could be applied to other cultures and whether it could inform our self-care practices.
Hygge is a Danish/Norwegian word that means wellbeing; a sense of comfort and togetherness; coziness and wellbeing. It’s a feeling or mood that is created from making everyday experiences more meaningful and/or beautiful. It sounds like the perfect recipe for self-care but would it work where I live in North America?
Meik Wiking, the author of The Little Book of Hygge is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. He cites many ways to bring hygge into your life but why would the Danes be the experts? First of all, Denmark typically ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world so they must have figured something out (Source: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/03/finland-is-the-world-s-happiest-country-again/)
Also, more and more people are coming to Denmark to learn their secrets, a UK college teaches a course in Hygge and there are shops and cafes popping up around the world that embrace hygge. (Hygge is so popular when I looked for copyright-free images on Pixabay, several appeared!)
Here are some ways to simply apply this well-being philosophy into our own life:
- Use Candles
Danes burn the most candles in all of Europe. Choose natural instead of scented candles. I have lots of candles at home but rarely burn them. That needs to change.
Choose several small lamps in a room instead of one large light. Wiking refers to this as “caves of light”. As a Canadian who suffers through long, dark winters, this seems like a simple way to create coziness. Again, this is easily done.
The science of positive psychology strongly equates happiness and well-being to quality relationships so this aspect of hygge makes sense. Almost 80% of Danes socialize with family, friends and co-workers at least once a week usually in a small group of 3-4 people at home. The ideal way to hygge with others is to have everyone prepare food together so the burden doesn't fall on the host.
I’m not sure what the stats are in Canada but I suspect they are much lower than the once per week gathering in Denmark. I usually have coffee or lunch with a single friend so I can get caught up with that person. Small groups seem like an interesting option worthy of trying.
The most common way to “hygge” is with cake, sweets, and coffee. Danes rank #2 in the amount of candy they consume after the Finns! I’m all in for coffee and sweets!
- The Home Environment
There are other key essentials for hygge at home that include books, board games, music, blankets and cushions. Cozy blankets and cushions are definitely a must-have in my home. I can’t imagine going through a winter without warm blankets!
Hygge (Self-Care) Emergency Kit
The thought of coming home after a long tough day and realizing that you have the perfect hygge essentials waiting for you seems like a wonderful treat. Here are some suggestions from Wiking for a personalized kit:
- favourite tea
- favourite book
- favourite movie or tv show
- warm socks
- notebook or journals with pens
I have all of these items but would replace warm socks with fuzzy slippers. I also like having hot baths with lavender oil in the winter so bath oils would be part of my “kit”.
Hygge at Work
Most of us do not have control over what our workplace looks like. I used to have a desk in a large open “bull-pen” surrounded by partitions. It was noisy and brightly lit – far from relaxing but are there ways to transform our small spaces into cozy, inviting nooks at work?
Wiking suggests things like plants (start an office garden which can also purify the air) but create a meaningful "work" space by leaving chocolate for a co-worker, and organize Friday potlucks to increase socializing and connections. Finally, find space for a couch to facilitate relaxed conversations.
What is interesting to note here is the emphasis on work-life balance in Denmark. For example, people leave work at 5 p.m. and those with children leave at 4 p.m. so their work-week, the shortest in the world, is 33 hours. This leaves plenty of time to engage in social activities and spend time on things that bring joy outside of work.
Connect with Nature
Spending time in nature is also a part of hygge. There is significant research that outlines the benefits of being in nature so plan things like walks, picnics, BBQs, go fruit picking, and bike. I spend a lot of time outdoors (when the weather is good) so this is something that's easy to incorporate this into my life.
Here are some questions for you?
1. What do you think about hygge as a well-being philosophy?
2. How do you think it could be adapted to your own life as part of your self-care?
3. Do you agree that hygge could be just simple tweaks to your lifestyle and environment that could contribute to your overall well-being?
The closest equivalent to hygge in Canadian English is hominess which I think is appropriate. Where I live in Eastern Canada, it gets dark at 5 p.m. starting in October until the end of March. This year, Spring hasn’t quite arrived so I’m still wearing slippers and have a blanket on my couch.
Despite the growing interest in hygge (as seen by the numbers of books, articles, etc.), I think it is important to stress that our self-care activities are unique and must be appropriate and sustainable for us.
Let me know what you think or if you already “hygge” as part of your self-care activities.
Thanks for reading, Patrice
Wiking, M. (2016). The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well. Penguin Life. https://amzn.to/2EGdcVW
Wiking, M. (2017). The Little Book of Lykke: Secrets of the World’s Happiest People (The Happiness Institute Series) https://amzn.to/2QBnmf8
Johansen, S. (2016). How to Hygge: The Secrets of Nordic Living. Bluebird Books for Life. https://amzn.to/2HKpNJI
Patrice Palmer has more than 23 years’ experience as an ESL teacher, trainer and writer in Canada. She spent seven amazing years teaching in Hong Kong. She has taught students from 8 to 80 in a variety of programs. She has an M.Ed., M.A. and certificates in Positive Psychology and Positive Education. Patrice has transitioned out of classroom teaching and now works as a teacherpreneur doing the things she loves such as writing books and online courses and delivering workshops on teacher self-care. Her own personal experience with professional burn-out in 2015 prompted her to reflect on her own self-care and adopt positive psychology interventions which she now shares with other educators and administrators.
For more details on Patrice's next book on Teacher Self-Care, click here: https://www.alphabetpublishingbooks.com/book/teacher-self-care-manual/
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