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Exploring Hygge: could a Danish tradition change my mind about winter?


Learning about Hygge

I gave my big sister a confused look, communicating without words that I had no idea what she was talking about. She sat across from me and tried to explain herself.


“It’s a Danish word. H-Y-G-G-E.” My sister spelled. “It’s about celebrating coziness and all things good about the winter months.”


“Never heard of it.” I said flatly. “It doesn’t really sound like me. I’m not sure there is much good about winter. I just hate winter.” I shrugged my shoulders and worked to change the subject. After all, when we were kids, my sister would make up rules to games just so she could win. She was probably making this up too.  


A few weeks later I stumbled upon the word “Hygge” again.


Strange. I thought. Maybe my sister wasn’t making it up after all.


So, I consulted Google. This five letter word brought up over 46,000 results with one click. After just a few minutes of clicking links I learned a few things about Hygge.


  • It is pronounced like hoo-ga.

  • Danish people don’t practice Hygge just in the winter. It’s a part of their life all year. However, given its focus on coziness, winter is the perfect time to implement some Hygge lifestyle changes.

  • Hygge seems like a simple concept, but it’s so broad, that it could mean something different to each person.

  • And finally, I learned that Denmark is considered the happiest nation in the world. Despite having long hard winters.


Maybe there is something to this thing. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try some Hygge or Hyggeing or Hyggeness? Hygge knows.


I bought the book “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living” by Meir Wiking. As a recovering perfectionist, I wanted to do this Hygge thing “right.”


Meir Wiking introduces Hygge this way -


“Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling we are safe, and we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down. You may be having an endless conversation about the small or big things in life – or just be comfortable in each other’s silent company – or simply by yourself enjoying a cup of tea.”


Replace tea with coffee and I love ALL. OF. THIS.


As December approached, I embarked on my Hygge journey, still not exactly sure how to do it “right.” Hygge seems to be a practice and a feeling all at once.

 

Here’s a few things I learned in my two months of Hygge-ing -


  1. Hygge is not a cure for seasonal depression. I was hoping it would be. But sometimes the winter blues is more than just “the blues.” For me winter brings a layer of mental health struggles that can’t just be swept away with hot chocolate, candles, and blankets. I still needed to increase my depression medication for the season and continue to meet with my therapist.

  2. However, Hygge can be a tool in the toolbox of those who struggle with winter (even SAD). The holidays were far more joyful for me this year, and I credit much of that to the intentions I set of being present and grateful for the holiday celebrations. I have also enjoyed adding some fun hobbies to my routine – such as coloring and reading. When I do these activities, I spend less time mindlessly scrolling on my phone or sleeping excessively to pass the time.

  3. Hygge is not as easy as it seems. It may be the depression talking, but it’s hard for me to make plans in the winter. I often want to simply hibernate – alone. Yet Hygge is a balance of togetherness and self-care. I can definitely improve on the togetherness piece by putting gatherings with friends and family on the calendar.  

  4. Not every part of Hygge is for everyone. Candles and dim lighting seem to be a big part of Hygge. For this girl, that is nice for a short time, but I need light… the brighter the better. So, I compromised the traditional practice a bit and made scented candles and a brightly light room part of my routine.

  5. Hygge gives a word to slowing down and enjoying life. It’s not about hustling. It’s not about impressing anyone. It didn’t take long for me to connect Hygge to my faith. Hygge has no religious roots (as far as I have learned so far). But God is the creator of good. We are made in his image and our desire to feel secure and “at home” is from him. So why not include prayers of gratitude and intentional time “at home” with the Lord in my new habits? The Christian life does not have to be one long plod of suffering.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17NIV


God’s goodness is reflected in the joy we experience in the present. God is good and he is unchanged by culture, language, tradition, or season.

Bonus lesson - One downside of Hygge that Meir Wiking points out in “The Little Book of Hygge” is the exclusion of newcomers to a community. The tradition of gathering with people you already know and love often neglects those who haven’t found “their people” yet. Again, this is something I will tweak in my own practice of the Danish tradition.


I’m still not sure if I’ve got the Hygge thing down. Two hours of shoveling was enough to convince me that I will probably never love winter as much as I love summer. I will still pray that the groundhog was right this year and spring really is just around the corner.


However, exploring Hygge forced me to place a finger on the pulse of living to the fullest and being grateful for simple things. Overall, I’m thankful for the experience of exploring Hygge, and I must admit it’s made the winter more tolerable… perhaps even enjoyable.

 

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