Imagine sitting in cabin lit only by a roaring fire in the fireplace and a few candles scattered throughout the room. You’re wrapped in a blanket, holding your favorite book in one hand and a mug of hot tea in the other. You’re full and satisfied from a delicious meal of soup and bread finished an hour or so earlier. You take a look around the room to see your loved ones gathered around you, enjoying their quiet, cozy time. You peek outside to see a blizzard blowing through, coating the trees and ground with a thick layer of snow. You smile, grateful to be warm and wrapped up indoors and safe from the cold.
I don’t know about you, but this is my personal picture of happiness. And, incidentally enough, the Danes would agree with me.
Hygge (pronounced HOO-ga) is a Danish word recently popularized through the book The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living* by Meik Wiking. Danish happiness researcher Wiking wrote from his research on what makes the Danes consistently rate among the happiest people in the world. His theory centers around practicing what he called “the Danish art of cozy.”
As you consider the major elements of hygge, it’s easy to see why this concept can provide so many benefits to physical and mental health.
Health Benefits of Hygge
Hyggeligt activities include such behaviors as practicing presence, or mindfulness, to the present moment. Mindfulness can lead to clarity of thinking, a sense of calm, reduction of negative thoughts, and reduced stress. The sensory nature of hygge can also contribute to being in the present moment, in noticing the warmth from the fire or a hot drink, the smell of a burning candle, or the feel of a soft blanket.
In particular for trauma survivors, relaxation strategies like these are essential in calming the fight-or-flight response of the nervous system. Hygge is about safety and self-care, which can significantly affect the feelings of lack of safety that propel anxiety.
Social support is another key element of hygge that has major health benefits. Spending time with loved ones allows you to cope better with stress, improve your motivation, and reduce feelings of depression and negative self-talk. Spending time with people you love also ups your level of oxytocin, which increases empathy and can be a healthy alternative to destructive, addictive behaviors.
Practicing gratitude for these relationships and the connections you have with others similarly reduces stress and decreases depression.
Embrace Your Hygge
Give yourself a break.
You can use this physical practice as a way of changing your mindset from one of perfectionism and busy-ness to one of slowing down, appreciating the moment, and allowing space. When you approach your life with this mindset, you’re likely to be more kind in your self-talk, compassionate toward yourself and others, and experience more pockets of joy throughout your day.
Create a hyggekrog.
A hyggekrog is a space set aside in your home where you can experience hygge, like a reading nook or corner that feels particularly cozy. Set aside some space in your home with the intention to use it for your hygge time. Include an assortment of hyggelig items in the space, like your favorite books, a cozy blanket, a candle, and a houseplant.
Turn off your screens.
While you can practice hygge while watching a favorite movie or TV show, reducing screen usage allows you to stay more present in the moment, and it also helps to promote physical activity and improvements to sleep. Choose to turn off your phone for an hour up to an entire day, or keep it elsewhere so that it doesn’t distract you.
Read a book.
Recent research has found that reading for even a short amount of time daily can drastically reduce stress. Choose a book that is a personal favorite or a new interest you’d like to explore and set aside some time to read it. You can read on your own or invite friends to join you for a day of reading your own books together (talk about an introvert’s dream!)
Host a hygge get-together.
Invite a small group of friends over (Weiking writes that the best number for hygge is 4) for a warm meal, good conversation, and some hot drinks. You could schedule this time around the premiere of a favorite TV show or the release of a movie you’ve been anticipating on Netflix. Or choose a theme for the evening and create food and activities that support that theme. Plan a craft night where friends can bring knitting, crocheting, needlework, or any other crafty hobby they have.
Bake or purchase sweets.
It seems the Danish love sweet pastries (see: cheese or fruit Danish). Weiking talks about the production of dopamine, a feel-good neurochemical, that is released when you eat sweet foods. Take some time to make a favorite dessert or treat yourself to a pastry from the bakery.
Create a hygge playlist.
What type of music helps you to feel the most cozy and calm? Are there certain songs or genres of music that remind you of home? Put together a playlist you can use when you’re practicing hygge by yourself or when you’re having a get-together, or use a pre-made playlist. Sometimes the music itself can provide a cue to relax and slow down.
Nothing puts you more squarely in the present moment than play. Whether you’re playing a board game, enjoying a sport, or simply doing something you loved when you were a child, you’ll find the joy of stopping your work for a short time to enjoy an activity that is frivolous and light-hearted. Invite friends into this playful attitude and experience the happiness that a break for fun can bring.
Are you feeling overstressed and overworked? Tired from all of the busy that seems to push you through your days? Are you dealing with feelings of depression or hopelessness? Anxiety? Wrestling with the after-effects of trauma? At Restored Hope, I offer space for you to heal from past trauma and present symptoms of anxiety and depression. Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule an appointment and start seeing freedom from your stress and negative thoughts today.
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