Get Your Hygge [Hoo Ga] On

When I was little, my favourite past time was reading and the Queen of my world was Enid Blyton.  I devoured all her books like the rest of the kids did with candy and I bounced off my walls from the high her fantastical stories sent me to. My youthful and ripe imagination was thrilled to no end. I collected and coveted every storybook collection and my most favourite series was The Faraway Tree. Of all the strange lands that floated high above the clouds only accessible by the Faraway Tree, the one I remember the most is the Land of The Topsy Turvy.  And these days since the circus came to town filling our TV screens, the internet, and radio waves with the wild and absurd, I’m reminded of the story even though the last time I read it was when I was probably 8.

In the Land of Topsy Turvy, everything and everyone is upside down.  Not unlike this circus where the animals are the ringmasters wielding the all-powerful whip while the humans, unbeknownst to them, have become the performers. Twirling about, jumping through fire rings, walking on stilts, they are trained to entertain with their tricks and acts while the animals stand tall and proud, beating their chests, urging us to sing along, clap in unison, and be bent to their troupe’s mesmerising wills and ways. Just like the story, they’ve intoxicated the wildest of imaginations, though mostly with smoke and mirrors.

Even the weather has been turned on its head like everything else. This winter snowed immensely, alternating between pretty giant powdery flakes to high-speed accumulation falling and piling so fast wreaking havoc on a city not equipped for the snow. It has been, like all things else lately, quite peculiar. It’s already February, and we’re still getting snowfall, a lot of it. Snow?  In Vancouver?  It’s been a white mess.

Indoors, I’ve survived the cold by getting my Hygge [hoo ga] on.  This means most evenings I’m at home, bundled up in my multitude of layers, my feet warm from my thickest socks, and the room cosy from the warmth and flicker of candle light.  Hygge is a Danish term for the Danish way of living well and a lifestyle that is not too unfamiliar to Canadians.  My sister got me the book “Little Book of Hygge,” by Meik Wiking over the holidays and after reading it I realised the world could definitely benefit from some hygge right now.

“Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things.  It’s about being with the people we love.  A feeling of home.  A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down,” says Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.   Hygge is about appreciating the tiny moments, recognising the simple joys of life, finding solace and refuge in nature, and indulging yourself so that you can live well. Given that the Danes have consistently been ranked one of the happiest people in the world, I think it’s safe to say that the rest of us can certainly take a page or two from their book.

Self-indulgence for the Danes is not about spoiling oneself with the latest and greatest, the shiny and the new.  It’s about creating warm and inviting environments that might encourage intimate conversations, self-reflection, cuddles on the couch and a sense of inner peace and calm.  It’s like taking life and weaving it into one giant cashmere blanket to swaddle and soothe you through life’s inevitable trials and tribulations.  Like when a circus comes to town with their trumpets blaring and before you know it, the world is upside down.  Or when it’s snowing outside and the temperature is under zero and it’s just so darn cold. Get your hygge on, cover yourself in your warmest knits and throws, get comfortable with a book in your cosiest nook filled with cushions that make you want to laze forever.  Turn down the lights and create a soft mood with candles.  Oh, and EAT CAKE.  Yes, cakes, pastries and pies are very Hygge and highly encouraged.  In my pursuit of happiness, I’m afraid I mustn’t disobey.

Hygge provides clarity and space for gratitude, appreciation, and deeper connections with each other.  I witnessed hygge in work while watching the latest season of Alone, Paul’s favourite TV show.  It’s a reality show about survivalists who are dropped off in isolation in the wilderness and left to survive as long as they can for a winning prize of $500,000.  In the latest season, the last survivor lasted 87 days.  That’s about 2 months and 17 days.  In isolation, out in the wilderness, with nothing but your own mind, imagination and will to keep you alive.  In the beginning of the show, the prize money is clearly the driving force to live and survive. But as the days, and weeks, and months for some, go by, talk about money and the big dreams it could fulfil fade.  It is the thought and memories of family and loved ones that ultimately govern their mental and emotional states and we watched how each contestant strove to create and innovate each day just to keep their minds and spirits at bay.  It is hard to deny the power of human connections, it is clear that we need it above everything else to survive.

At the end of the episode, we watch as the wife slowly creeps behind the unaware winner to surprise him with a hug from behind.  At this moment he is extremely tired, starving, and bordering malnourished.  He is afraid that the medical team has come back to check his weight and his fear is that he will be pulled out of the show because his BMI has dipped too low.  As soon as he feels his wife’s arms around him he turns around and she tells him he’s won but his joy at seeing her overtakes him and his emotions start pouring. And our hearts are overjoyed along with them as we too have tears streaming down our faces in the soft glow of our candles, our feet loving our new, thick, most luxurious wool rug, bundled under the swath of a warm blanket. And I have my cup of peppermint tea while he has his glass of red wine.

“You won!” The wife says.

“I don’t even care that I won, I’m just so happy to see you.” says the winner.

That’s what I think hygge’s all about, allowing yourself to see the world in a different light, perhaps a more honest, thoughtful and generous one.  By taking care of yourself, knowing yourself, looking inward and respecting the wonderful environment that we have been given the pleasure of living in, we can help to tip back the world’s moral scale that is currently askew. Ever the optimist, I have faith in the human heart for I know underneath it all we all share the same journey, we all have our own struggles, and we all need a break from the phenomenal to be reminded of what’s actually meaningful.

So while the dancing bear may continue to rock our reality and flip our beliefs on its head, I encourage you all to get your hygge on, retreat into a sense of self, find a quiet awareness of each other and your surroundings and take stock of what is deeply important. Turn down the noise, do more of what you love for and with the people you love because this isn’t a children’s book, this isn’t a surreal world. This is our reality and despite everything being topsy turvy right now, we can still help to shape our own little nooks in the tiny crevices of this world.

– SS



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