Here's to Hygge!

Want that often elusive relaxed state of joy, comfort and well-being? Take a tip from the Scandinavians.

Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Iceland, and the Netherlands – which can have 17 hours of darkness per day in winter months! – often top the list of happiest countries due to a way of life called “Hygge”, (pronounced “hoo-gah”). Most Scandinavians would tell you it is not a thing, but rather a feeling. If I am asked to define it, I would say a mindful and emotional state of wellbeing/living in which your surroundings and relaxed perspective bring you health, contentment, and joy. It is a simple, yet indulgent lifestyle. One Netherlands resident told me it is not like they don’t have the same stresses and demands of many Americans (kids, jobs, bills,…); it’s just that they choose to eliminate them, rather than focus on them. A little harsh, I thought, but then the truth often is. Intrigued, and a bit jealous, I decided to try it.

Being a doctor, I had to first look at the health benefits. Such a state of living would surely lower your blood pressure and cortisol levels, helping to reduce risk of heart attack, stroke and obesity. Happiness and contentment, the reduction of stress in particular, has been proven to boost our immune system and improve our sleep, not to mention helping tremendously in cases of depression or anxiety. If that wasn’t enough for me, I also learned that incorporating hygge into my life would be easy and free (or at least very inexpensive). How, you may ask?

First I made a list of all the things that brought me joy and made me feel comfortable and relaxed. Here is where hygge will differ from one person to the next. For some, the following list of things I use may not be pleasurable to someone else. Also, for some it is not a matter of adding things to your life, but just eliminating things that annoy you. Walk into any company with a cubicle atmosphere and you will see what I mean. Some workers will have photos, flowers, personal knick knacks, office supplies in their favorite colour, quotes posted in their cube…Others will have less of those things and have chosen the cubicle away from other people, or perhaps they use headphones or other means of blocking out surrounding annoyances; they may take frequent breaks to get away. Sometimes, and for me, it is a combination of strategies. You must choose what works for you.

My partner/significant other and I set aside a day once a month where we unplug; that is, turn off our phones, set aside chores, and let our family and friends know we are not available that day. Then we just enjoy being. We might take a walk or a nap, play a game, cook together, make love, watch a movie or play some music, or just do nothing but enjoy the peace and quiet. We also use the following to induce that hygge feeling on a daily basis:

Music Sunlight Candlelight or Dimmed Lighting Laughter

Artwork Comfortable Clothing Scents Favorite Mug or Teacup

Massage Laughter Comfort (Healthy) Food Positive Hobbies

Aesthetics in the Home – we have both a fireplace and water feature; we use our favorite colours; have plenty of pillows and soft blankets around, and we use nature (there are healthy plants inside our home, and we enjoy the outdoors as much as possible).

Again, choose what makes you happy. But then, focus on those things. Don’t just walk past them on your way to do something; allow those things to relax you. Let go of stress. Be a little selfish. Indulge in some simple luxury. Feel good every day. You deserve it!

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