The Danish word ‘hygge’ (pronounced who-guh) has gained incredible popularity over the last few years. Type the word ‘hygge’ into Google and it will translate to ‘fun’ or ‘cozy’. While this is a sound attempt at capturing its meaning, ‘hygge’, cannot be explained quite that simply. Ask any Dane what ‘hygge’ means and you will get a much more detailed, thorough and accurate answer. Depending on who you ask, however, the answer may differ greatly. You see, ‘hygge’ is personal and more than anything, it is the feeling that comes from a specific set of circumstances. Circumstances that may be different for each of us. It is not one thing and it cannot be translated into one word. It is a deeply engrained part of the Danish culture and to truly understand it, you have to be in it!
Maybe the best way to describe ‘hygge” is to think about spending quality time alone. For example, as I write this it’s 4:00 am on a cold and dark NYC morning. The holiday lights from the streets below are twinkling in through the windows as I sip my cup of tea and admire the peacefulness of this moment. Another way to describe it may be to think back to an intimate time with family and friends where you felt truly connected. It reminds me of one New Year’s Eve where a small group of friends and I were stuck in a snowstorm. No one for miles in any direction, we stayed up late drinking wine at our friend’s cabin, watching snow pour down from the sky. ‘Hygge’ is an expression of the feeling you get from the little things in life. It’s enjoying the present moment in its utter peaceful simplicity – in the complete absence of any stress or Thought Disturbances™ (intrusive thoughts that stem from our fear of not being good enough). Although one could argue that ‘hygge is a feeling in and of itself, it’s more than that. It’s the end result of the feeling of there being nowhere else in the world you’d rather be right now. It leaves you with a feeling of happiness, relaxation, and utter contentment.
It’s not an accident that the concept of ‘hygge’ lends itself well to the long, dark, and cold winter months. After all picture yourself in Scandinavia (or another place in the Northern hemisphere), especially during the holiday season, wrapped up in a warm blanket in front of a fireplace, perhaps with a cup of tea, your favorite book or laughing with a group of friends and family. The snow is slowly coming down outside the window and you are safe and sound from the freezing temperatures. If picturing this leaves you feeling warm and cozy, then you know what ‘hygge’ is. You can almost imagine the word being born out of a necessity to survive those dark long winter months and a way to avoid the infamous seasonal depression of winter.
‘Hygge’ can be a way of life and surely has a similar vibe to the concept of Presencing that at MYND MVMT we spend so much time studying, discussing and working to cultivate.
But, as is the case with so many good things we as humans can want so much to hang on to what feels good. Whether we know it or not we are primed for pleasure ! In fact it’s pleasure and pain that drive every decision we make all day long. From whether or not to leave a meeting to use the restroom, make a call turn left or turn right, drive or walk, sit or stand, it all comes down to our innate cost benefit analysis of pain versus pleasure. That is what has contributed to HYGGE becoming so terribly confusing to so many. You see ‘hygge’ also has a much darker side. As much as I love ‘hygge’ and as important as it is to me and to every other Danish person I know, I cannot help but take notice of some of the less positive, even dangerous, things that are associated with the term. Especially as a health and wellness professional! There is a concept and tradition in Denmark called ‘fredagsslik’, which literally means “Friday candy”. Many families with children religiously devour candy, sweets, and sugary drinks on Friday evenings. This can also be described as ‘hygge’. In some circles the term has even become synonymous with giving ourselves permission to be overindulgent! Eating too many sweets, candy, cakes, drinking too much alcohol, overeating, etc., and just about anything else that is generally considered unhealthy. I guess it really shouldn’t surprise anyone then that the two leading causes of death in Denmark are cancer and cardiovascular diseases!
What does it mean when a word that supposedly represents wellness becomes synonymous with all things unhealthy? With all things overdoing it?
Now, despite this being a Danish word defiant of direct translation, you already know how to ‘hygge’. Living in the West Village in New York City, this becomes clear with every restaurant decorated with twinkly lights burning candles creating a cozy atmosphere. No one is immune. It may sound like I am trying to make a good thing look bad, but trust me I am not. This concept is something that I value more than most things. However, having a strategy to avoid adopting an unhealthy lifestyle can be quite important when it comes to ‘hygge’. So, here are some points and tips to consider:
(1) Disassociate the concept from actions and just be present
‘Hygge’ is a feeling, not an action. It’s not what you do, it’s how it makes you feel. Sure, eating a piece of chocolate may make you feel good in the moment. However, if you truly and honestly understand the concept, then you know that all you need to do is to be 100% present either with yourself or the people you are enjoying the moment with. What that means practically is turning your attention to what is in front of you in a neutral and non judgmental way. Approach the here and now with curiosity. If you’re driving it might mean noticing the scenery – the sites and sounds around you. It might mean noticing how you feel in your body. It could also mean singing along to a song you really like. Being in the moment means just that – focusing your attention in the here and now and resisting the urge to continually jump in your thoughts to the past, future, or your critical inner voice.
(2) Combine togetherness with exercise
Spending time with friends and family is a big part of ‘hygge’. So why not spend some of that time being active together? It could be fun at family gatherings to participate in activities, games, a jog with a friend, or a group exercise class. Working with MYND MVMT over the last year will has taught me how crucial movement can be as a tool for personal growth, change, and connection. Even if you don’t have anyone to go with, just getting yourself to a group class can make a big difference to your self esteem, and your sense of being connected to the world. That said MYND MVMT opens our mindful fitness studio in a month, so join us for some intense workouts, and intimate and mindful group experience!
(3) Mindful eating
Be mindful of not only what you put in your body but how you do it!. When we are in social settings we often don’t even think about what we are putting in our bodies or how. If you are going to eat chocolate – savor ir! Enjoy it! Try closing your eyes and actually tasting it, rather than devouring as much as you can get indoor mouth as fast as you can! Most people notice when they actually take a moment to feel what they eat and drink it tastes much different then we are normally aware. Play with this! It has many benefits including not eating past fullness, and needing less to feel satisfied!
About the Author
Morten Jensen is a Nutrition & Health Coach and Consultant for MYND MVMT. MYND MVMT uses an integrated, health & wellness model where mindfulness, nutrition, fitness, and long term goal attainment are built into the rehabilitation process. Mind Mvmt specializes in the treatment & recovery of depression, anxiety, substance use & abuse, behavioral addictions, and working with those who struggle to feel fulfilled in their lives.