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."
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).