Hygge it out

I know I'm late to the hygge game. My apologies. While there isn't an exact translation in English, as best as authors can explain, the Danish word means feeling cozy, "like you've gotten a hug, just without the physical touch" (Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge), or "an appreciation of the simple pleasures in life" (Signe Johansen, How to Hygge). 

The qualities that define hygge are simplicity, happiness, balance, beauty and quiet. Along the way we've decided that the pursuit of hygge is the pathway towards happiness. 

Happiness has become a barometer of how well we're doing at life. If this is true, the majority of Americans are failing. The World Happiness Report ranks the U.S. at 19th among the 34 countries measured. This would make one think the appropriate step is to find ways to curate more happiness in one's life.

But what if the point is not to secure individual happiness? What if happiness is actually the source of the problem?

In an interview for Scientific American, Emily Esfahani Smith explains, "The happiness frenzy distracts people from what really matters, which is leading a meaningful life. Human beings have a need for meaning. We’re creatures that seek meaning, make meaning, and yearn for meaning. The question is—how can we lead a meaningful life? The route to meaning lies in connecting and contributing to something bigger than yourself—and not in gratifying yourself and focusing on what you, yourself, need and want, as the happiness industry encourages us to do.”

To be clear, Esfahani Smith "[doesn’t] think there’s anything wrong with feeling happy, but [she] think[s] that setting happiness as your goal and relentlessly chasing it can lead to problems."

Because so many of us are struggling to understand our ‘why’, I think we’re turning to false substitues for meaning.
— Emily Esfahani Smith

She expounds on those problems. "Research shows that there are millions of people who are unsure of what makes their lives meaningful—and that rates of suicide, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and drug addiction have been rising for decades. Because so many of us are struggling to understand our ‘why,’ I think we’re turning to false substitutes for meaning—like technology and the pursuit of happiness—to fill our existential vacuum."

We, as a culture, are restless, overloaded, consistently battle FOMO and consume to fill what is empty. Esfahani Smith finds that meaning evades us because we deny ourselves moments of reflection. It is difficult to reflect when you're constantly taking in and consuming. 

If reflection leads to meaning and meaning gives my life purpose, how does one acquire meaning? A requirement for a meaningful life is "being reflective, being present and aware of others" and this occurs through storytelling. Esfahani Smith explains, "Storytelling is the act of taking our disparate experiences and weaving them into a coherent whole—a narrative. Psychologists say that one of the building blocks of a meaningful life is coherence or comprehension. That means that people leading meaningful lives don’t conceive of their experiences as random and disconnected. They have worked hard to understand how their experiences fit together into a narrative that explains who they are how they got to be that way."

The concept of hygge is ultimately to be intentional towards giving and finding spaces to discover your narrative. Many people live disparate stories and it's reflected in their chaotic, busy and noisy comings and goings. Taking the time to sit to make meaning of one's experiences can lead to a life of simplicity, happiness, balance, beauty and quiet. In a culture that praises busyness, you must fight to have moments of togetherness, reflection, and quiet. Often times and for many people, this happens sitting across from a counselor who empathizes, supports, and holds your process as you seek to make sense of it.

And as you learn and grow to reflect and become a storyteller, perhaps meaning making will coincide with Fike (Swedish word for sitting down for coffee and cake).

How will you create daily rhythms of reflection in your life?

Happy Happy, Joy Joy

I recently read an article by a journalist who tracked her happiness for a year in an effort to see what motivates her. She did this in order to incorporate more of these happy generating things into her life. That's smart...science really is relevant. I appreciated her intentionality to document and track because it can be easy to minimize everyday simple pleasures.  As an anxious culture, we rarely sit in the here-and-now. This reality contributes to our difficulty to be presently engaged with ourselves and others (and I've already noted the actual health risks in a previous blog post). There is something to be said about taking time to capture the various here-and-now moments, collecting them, and reflecting on them. This benefits us by adding a level of conscious awareness. This is important if we want to lead fulfilled lives. 

While I have not kept an actual jar (though I like this idea), I do keep a monthly account of things that were particularly special and meaningful to me, from coffee with a friend, trying a new restaurant, a fun date, or getting an interview for a dream job. Even if there might have been something sad or stressful, I'll jot down the flowers a friend sent or the text messages that blew up my phone to comfort me. These are things I want to remember and be thankful for; it reorients me back to what I have in front of me in this given moment in time. My perspective shifts from what I lack to what has been given.

At the end of the year, I look back on each month and reflect on different things that were highlighted and otherwise would have forgotten. Because I've written it down, I can remember the great weather the day my friend and I walked Town Lake and the funny anecdote she told. It's a form of journaling that informs me of things that I value and give my time and attention. Because there are often repeated themes each month, I can be more diligent in how I choose to spend my time and focus. I can gauge how well I am doing at incorporating people and experiences that contribute to my overall mental and emotional health. Was this month particularly stressful or rejuvenating? The answer can be correlated to what did or did not make the list. This awareness reminds me I'm responsible for my own self-care and can take active steps to lessen my anxiety and stress simply by initiating with a friend to go for a walk or have coffee. While life will still be stressful, I do not have to feel helpless by those events or situations. I can take ownership of what I can change, what is within my jurisdiction and sometimes, that's a step in the right direction.

What are things that would make your jar/list? 

Hawaii On My Mind

You’ll come to learn that I have a love affair with words. So much so that I can easily fall into an etymological wormhole. (Thanks, Google.) I recently learned of the definition to a familiar Hawaiian greeting. Aloha means “to consciously manifest life joyously in the present". Is that not one of the most beautiful things you’ve read? I imagine that being surrounded by the crystal blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, gorgeous palm tree lined landscape and simplicity of island living would make aloha easily accessible. But for those of us on the mainland, how might we channel this ancient philosophy? Let’s pick apart aloha (compliments of Google) to see if we might bring some of that island magic to the contiguous U.S.

  • Consciously: in a deliberate and intentional way
  • Manifest: display or show (a quality or feeling) by one's acts or appearance; demonstrate
  • Life: vitality, vigor, or energy
  • Joyously: with great happiness and joy
  • Present: existing or occurring now

This small 5-letter word holds a lot of weight. Deliberately and intentionally displaying a sense or feeling of vitality, with great happiness and joy, in the immediate. It sounds great on paper (or screen) but practically speaking, it’s a lot of work to carry out. But if I want these tenants to be true characteristics of how I’m relating to the world, I’m going to have to roll up my sleeves. Just like if I want to run a marathon, I’m going to have to hit the pavement.

The more and more we cultivate a mindful life, we become more engaged, more rooted, and more us.

I think meditation and mindfulness can help direct us towards aloha. According to a New York Times article, mindfulness meditation creates a mental state "that can reduce stress, increase calmness and clarity and promote happiness". This is achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness meditation is captured in the very notion of showing up to the moment without judgment or shame nor does it call for a Pollyanna ignorance and naivete. We can allow ourselves to sit, aware of what our 5 senses are telling us about the now and giving space to exist now, not in the past 5 minutes or 5 years or the next 5 minutes of the next 50 years but in the very second. We find that the present offers us something and we don’t want to miss it lest we rob ourselves. The more and more we cultivate a mindful life, we become more engaged, more rooted, and more us. And maybe, we can begin to smell some of that salt air in our landlocked city.

{The above-mentioned article also provides guided meditations ranging from 1-minute to 15-mintes.}