There’s a Danish concept named “hygge.” Pronounced “hoo-ga,” hygge is one of those special foreign words that describes a feeling we have no words for in English. Essentially, hygge is the sense of wellbeing one feels from being settled in his home. It’s about coziness; think, candles that are actually lit, Pandora’s Acoustic Coffeehouse station, string lighting and good aromas. Hygge has a strong yet intimate interpersonal element to it as well. A hygge home would host comfortable get-togethers with hot chocolate or appetizers, just because.
I think learning the term hygge for the first time strikes a chord in all of us. We can all relate to having the desire for that exact feeling.
For example, have you noticed you never really settled into the last few places you lived? You meant to, and then you opened your eyes one morning a year later, the lease was up and you decided you weren’t that crazy about the place anyway. So you found another.
Think of all the ideas for dinner parties that never happened, that table you wanted to build, that comforter you wanted to buy, those curtains.
In your latest apartment, artwork is still on the floor propped against the wall it would hang onto. You moved into the place in the nights after work, or over a short weekend, and it took so much of you just to get the necessities taken care of. Over the months that passed, having furniture and kitchen utensils is enough. You know when to cut yourself a break.
Well, hygge is about cutting yourself a different type of break - one that actually requires effort. It’s about not surrendering in those moments. It’s about creating in that same space. Hygge asks you to get like nature and abhor the vacuum. In the emptiness of a Saturday morning, instead of moving from your bed to the couch in front of the TV, create a wonderful feeling to fill that space. Put on your favorite song and hang those paintings, buy a Christmas tree (yes, it needs ornaments), make tea. Invite a friend over for wine and a card game later that night. These actions add up to a longer-term, overall feeling of comfort, relaxation and content in your home - oh right, there’s a word for this: hygge!
As of 2016, Denmark is ranked the #1 happiest country in the world. Its hygge tradition - in place of the American habit to simply numb-out in front of the TV - may very well be the key element in the population’s long-term, true happiness.
Hygge struck me personally because I immediately recognized its importance and its value as something bigger. It’s not just about my home. It’s about becoming cozy in my life.
“Oh gosh,” I thought, “what if hygge is the missing element… what if the lack of hygge is contributing to that larger, unsettled-in-my-life feeling?”
Well, let’s break that thought down at my expense. That’s what I’m here for.
In terms of hygge and home, I haven’t really settled into my current apartment because I’ve always seen it as temporary. I live on the East Coast and I want to live on the West Coast. Sometimes I feel so unsettled that it almost becomes a paralysis in which I don’t want to go on trips or visit out-of-state friends - unless it’s on the way to moving to the West Coast. And maybe the reason I haven’t hung the pictures on the walls of my apartment is because I’m overwhelmed by the thought that my life isn’t all figured out and this isn’t my forever home.
In terms of hygge and life and work, I recently left the time-intensive “Corporate America” to begin my dream of photographing and writing professionally. I’ve since noticed a resistance to find an intermediate, more flexible means of income as I work on my true passions, because I’m scared that the work hours will lead to overtime again and I won’t have time to focus on what I really want. What if one day I open my eyes a year later and realize I haven’t moved a thing?
I was talking to a man about this the other day. I told him I was scared to engage more hygge into my life and get settled in work that isn’t my dream job. He said he has the same fear, too.
“But,” he said, “when it’s a beautiful day, I go for a swim in the ocean. If I notice lots of jellyfish appearing around me - guess what - I get out. But my choice to go into the ocean shouldn’t be changed by the fear there might be something in the way.”
I’m not that type of person. Literally speaking, I grew up on an island, went to the beach almost every day and I still want people to go into the ocean before me to scout for jellyfish, sharks or any creepy crawlers in the seabed. So if this is the way I am, how do I receive his advice?
And as if he had ESP, he concluded, “You go, and if you don’t like it, you leave. You just have to keep moving forward.”
So, my advice to you is that you begin small and move forward. Here are some steps below:
Step #1: Ask yourself if you are settled in your house, in your town, in your life, in your relationship, in your work. If you are not settled, then consider the possibility that what is making you unsettled is that you’re not doing what you truly want. Identify what you truly want, then, by taking the next step below.
Step #2: Write a list of many different options for your next step. Make sure the list entails options that would be reasonable as a very next step - not steps you’d take 10 steps from now. Read through the list and determine which is your favorite, ideal, next step.
For example, since I want to be a writer and photographer, but need some intermediate income as I build my profession, two reasonable next steps would be for me to:
- take on part-time, remote writing work, or
- assist 7 days a week at a photography gallery
My ideal next step is option #1: part-time writing work. It allows me personal time and supplemental income to work on my passion. Ideally, I’d love my blog to support me financially, but that possibility is a few steps away from my very next.
What are the very next steps for you? If you’re settled in all aspects of your life except your home, is your next step carving time into your day to plant and tend to a garden? Or are you not sure what you want your next job to look like, and your next step is taking the Myers & Briggs personality and career test?
Then, each time you take a step, ask yourself about the next one.
Step #3: Create hygge, right now. Hygge can be found every single moment and - as we see from the Danish - it contributes greatly to happiness.
If your home is the topic of need, light the fireplace or take your camping chair out on the sidewalk to look at the night sky.
If it's your relationship, bring home a bottle of wine and disconnect the TV.
If it’s your life, make a cup of herbal tea, grab colored markers and write the things you want for your life.
If it’s work, take the extra 5 minutes in a busy day to organize your desktop so you can more easily find the files you know you’ll be accessing multiple times.
Each moment, ask yourself: how can I create hygge?
I hope at the very least this post appeases you by informing you that someone else is going through the exact same thing. That it’s not abnormal to be here.
It’s like quantum physics - which I’ve been learning more about lately. The path makes sense on a large scale but the smaller you break it down it appears to make no sense at all. Yet imagine what it would have done to Monet’s pieces if he didn’t keep adding those unassuming little dots.