It’s pronounced “hue-geh” and is the Danish expression for coziness, comfort, and ultimate contentment all wrapped up together. During the last few years, it’s been the go-to trend for winter thanks to rabid commercialization. In actuality, it’s hard to put your finger on what constitutes hygge but luckily, it is attainable, but perhaps not in the way you might have been lead to believe. I actually wrote about the relationship between hygge and creativity in grad school, if you can believe it. Sometimes I really miss grad school. It was a really fun adventure.
2020 has been a very difficult year for the majority of earth’s population. COVID will most certainly make this holiday season very challenging in the U.S.. For months, we’ve been dealing with drawn out social distancing guidelines or lockdowns. Recent spikes in the number of sick mean that many people will be spending the holidays, or should be spending the holidays, alone. Many have suffered the loss of loved ones and will be thrust into a solitude that won’t dissipate once the restrictions are lifted and vaccinations are widespread.
If there was ever a need for hygge, the end of this year, as we approach the darker days of winter, is it. But how can we find happiness and contentment in the winter of our discontent? Everyone seems cranky and tired, segmented and hostile. How can you find contentment when you’ve lost your job or your home? How can you find happiness when you’ve lost a loved one?
An image search for hygge brings up photos of roaring fires, warm beverages, slippers, plush pillows, and furry throws. People are snuggling on sofas, reading books, eating popcorn. During a normal year, I would have relayed what I wrote about for grad school. This year, I think it’s important to dig deeper.
Laura Byager (https://mashable.com/article/hygge-scandinavian-lifestyle-trend/) writes about how the commercialization and monetization of hygge, with its candles and fuzzy socks, completely misses the point. In brief, Byager says you can’t buy love, happiness, or hygge. Hygge, like enlightenment, can only be attained by living a life of intention and mindful focus on moments of calm, happiness, simplicity, and relaxation, incidentally four of the things that seem to be missing during all of 2020, and maybe from mainstream American culture in general. I subscribe to a bewildering number of blogs about living life simply and even in the process of trying to live life simply, there is a lot (too much) to do.
That said, all is not hopeless. The Japanese have a concept called Kaizen that’s one of my favorite things I learned about in grad school. Kaizen is the process of continuous improvement. For project managers, it’s applied to quality; but for everyday life, it reminds us that improvement is a journey. In this way, hygge is a life-long journey and practice. Just stop every so often and ask yourself if you’re having a content moment. Maybe you had a nice call with someone, or had a nice snack, or was complimented at work.
Before COVID, I used to walk home from work and would cross over this lawn the city set up in front of City Hall. If it was summer, sometimes I would take off my shoes and just stand there, toes wiggling in the plush grass. Kids would be playing in the fountains. People would be picnicking. Commuters would be rushing around on their own journeys home. And I would just stand there in my bare feet, breathing it in, in the shadow of the magnificent building that our City Hall is. Without a candle or slipper in sight; calm, contentment, happiness, hygge.
If you are among the lucky ones who’ve made it through this year with family, home, and health intact, there is a lot to be grateful for. Translate this into patience and compassion for those around you who may be suffering. Wear a mask. Distance. Find contentment in doing the right thing even if it’s hard to keep up after months and months. Be generous and give to those who need help. Your neighbors might be holding on to their homes, but they might be faced with food insecurity, something you can’t always see from the outside. We are psychologically designed to feel happiness from helping others and there has rarely been a greater need.
So this year, find hygge through helping. We can revisit the candles, cocoa, and slippers next year.