Hygge and the lost art of seeking well-being

Photo courtesy of Rosemary Pitrone

Last month, I discovered the concept of “hygge.” Pronounced “hoo-ga,” hygge is a Danish word that can be loosely translated to “coziness of the soul.” For the Danes, it is about creating a homey atmosphere with the things you love most. Hygge is directly related to happiness.

I know all of this because my sister loaned me “The Little Book of Hygge” by Meik Wiking. It’s a short book filled with rustic illustrations and nuggets of wisdom from an author who is dedicated to studying the role of hygge in Danish life. Most importantly, the book seeks to explain why the Danish people consistently rank among the world’s happiest, despite the fact that it rains nearly half the year in Denmark.

I was pleased to learn that many things I already enjoy are considered “hyggeligt” — the adjective form of hygge. Among them are cozy sweaters, warm cups of coffee or tea, the soft glow of candles and the presence of good company. Smells, tastes and even sounds can be hyggeligt. Wiking evokes images of sitting by the window during a thunderstorm and listening to the raindrops fall. Although it isn’t hyggeligt outside, it certainly is on the inside.

Because such a large part of Danish life revolves around finding and creating hygge, it is easy to see why the Danes are some of the happiest people in the world. Wiking’s “Hygge Manifesto” lists gratitude, togetherness, comfort and pleasure as key components of hygge that are sure to bring light to otherwise dreary days.

Here at Tech, many students are familiar with doom and gloom. Throughout the year it is common to see students stressing out in the library or lining up for coffee late at night to fend off sleep. While few statistics about the state of student mental health at Tech are readily available, the Student Mental Health Action Team reported that attempted suicide rates at Tech have been steadily rising since 2014.

Students often feel crushed by the weight of homework, projects and tests. Add to that the stress of finding employment and maintaining a social life, and many forget to prioritize their physical and mental well-being. Students are plagued by the social pressure to be busy all the time. While productivity is great, relaxation is important too.

That is where hygge can be helpful. Being mindful of hygge helps me whenever I feel overworked or upset. I recommend having a “hygge box” on hand for your most urgent “hygge-mergencies.” Wiking suggests filling the box with things that comfort you — like your favorite books, snacks or a journal so you can get your thoughts on paper. When things become stressful or overwhelming, the box is filled with things to improve your mood.

It’s possible that you already practice hygge. Many people set time aside each day for activities that make them feel happy and safe, such as meditation or hanging out with friends.

But it is also important to address the culture of high stress that we live in. For many, it can seem unnatural to make time for your own well-being, and that is a harmful mindset. I believe that everyone can set aside one hour for relaxation and the pursuit of hygge each day. If that seems daunting, try planning an hour of hygge a few times a week to start out. Think about the time when you are most productive. If it’s in the morning, you might want to plan hyggeligt moments for the evening, and vice versa.

So, grab some battery-operated candles and your fuzziest blanket. Dedicate at least one hour of your day to hygge. Whether that means catching up on your favorite show, taking a bubble bath or cooking a meal with friends, it is important to have moments to look forward to — no matter how small.