Make room for hygge this winter

Nov 01, 2017
The Danes have figured out how to be happy with hygge. How do we employ those same concepts in Ireland?

The Danish term ‘hygge’ is being used to sell everything from pyjamas to rugs. The Oxford Dictionary even shortlisted ‘hygge’ as one of their Words of the Year 2016. Hard to explain and even harder to pronounce, it translates roughly to ‘cosiness’ and is intended to promote a feeling of well-being or contentment. 

Surviving the Danish winter is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. Hygge is a way to cope with the freezing temperatures and long, dark days. From lighting candles, snuggling up with a blanket and a hot chocolate, to meeting up with friends and family in a warm pub, the concept is to overcome the cold and miserable weather by feeling warm and cosy inside. 

Dr Mark Williamson of Action for Happiness explains: “Research shows that people who are able to be kind to themselves rather than harshly self-critical tend to have better mental health and higher life satisfaction, and allowing ourselves some hygge time to boost our own well-being leaves us better placed to contribute and help others.”  

By placing such an emphasis on spending time with family and friends, hygge ensures one of the most important contributors to our psychological well-being.
Danes are ranked the happiest nation in the world. A UN resolution states that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal and they publish an annual World Happiness Report, considering many factors such as health, family, job security and social factors. In this report, Denmark has topped the list four times out of five. 

Meik Wiking, author of The Little Book of Hygge and Chief Executive of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, believes that hygge is the main reason for this ranking. He argues that while other countries have similar concepts, hygge is uniquely Danish. “It’s an integral part of our cultural DNA: we talk about it tremendously often. Since I began researching the book, I’ve noticed just how much hygge comes up in everyday conversation”.

While our winter in Ireland is not quite as bad as Denmark, the short days and relentless damp can crush even the most optimistic of spirits. Add to that the stress of working while attending lectures, completing assignments and preparing for exams – our lives can become extremely stressful at this time of year.

So, how can we adopt the principles of hygge in a way that fits with our culture (and without spending a fortune on candles and slankets)? In Irish terms, it’s a bit like going home for Christmas – meeting up with old friends in the local pub, visiting family, or eating selection boxes in an onesie on St. Stephens Day. Hygge is a conscious act, one that promotes happiness, safety and emotional well-being.   
In short, hygge is about being intentional in doing those things that feed our souls so that we can overcome the challenging periods of our life with our sense of well-being intact. 

Even Hillary Clinton subscribes to the self-care aspects of hygge. In her memoir What Happened, she describes how she passed the days and weeks following the US election. She did “quite a bit of thinking and writing … some praying, some stewing, and, in time, a good deal of laughing. I went on a lot of long walks in the woods, with my husband and our dogs … I surrounded myself with friends and caught up on some of the shows that people have been telling me about for years ... I spent time with my wonderful grandchildren. I believe this is what some call ‘self-care’. It turns out, it’s pretty great”. 

The next time the stresses of life are getting too overwhelming, try to adopt some of the principles of hygge. Whether that is sitting by an open fire, going for a walk, or meeting up with friends for a cup of tea; the essence of hygge is to carve out time in our busy lives for ourselves.

Dawn Leane is the Principal of LeaneLeaders.