I Hygge (HOO-gah), do you?
I do hygge (HOO-gah), do you? No, it’s not the newest drug you need to worry about or a funny dance your kid learned at preschool. It is a Danish word that represents ‘cozy togetherness’ and has been steeped into the culture since the 18th century. It unifies families, makes homes cozier and people more joyful. Hygge is said to be a main reason Denmark has been consistently named the happiest country in the world (p.s. - the U.S. is currently 13th according to The World Happiness Report 2016). Mark (my husband) and I recently added a talk by Jessica Joelle-Alexander, the author of The Danish Way of Parenting, and listened to why hygge is a majorly important part of Danish culture and how it relates to raising families.
Hygge brings peoples together with the goal of being cozy, accepting, helpful, and non-judgmental in an emotionally safe space. A cozy dinner with friends or a holiday with family can be hyggelige - always lit by candles, soft clothes worn, mulled cider or hot chocolate drunk slowly by the fire, or some scene of the like. Games are often played and songs sung. Definitely no screens and no drama. Psychological utopia. This may sound like an unrealistic image and not one that relates to your experience of family holidays, it is something to aim for. Hygge is creating a time-limited space where everyone commits to connecting, sharing funny memories, and just being present. You may have just had a major blowout with your sibling, but those discussions are checked at the door and everyone pledges to contribute to a positive experience. When the evening is over, you can get back to your family beef. Hygge is about sculpting a safe place to relax and leave everyday stressors outside. It is a warm, mindful, and loving pause in the chaos of life.
At the talk, Jessica Joelle-Alexander handed all participants a Hygge Oath, which now lives on our fridge. As you consider bringing this tradition into your home, she suggests that everyone must:
- Turn off Phone and All Screens.
- Leave drama at the door. It can be re-visited later.
- Avoid complaining unnecessarily.
- Help out. Pitch in with the cooking, setting up, and organizing.
- Light candles!
- Mindfully enjoy the food and drink.
- Avoid controversial topics such as: politics, religion, money. You can talk about these later.
- Tell and re-tell funny, uplifting, and pleasurable stories from the past about each other.
- Avoid bragging, it can be subtly divisive.
- Think “we”, not “me”. The whole group is the most important unit during hygge.
- Definitely avoid social jockeying.
- No gossiping about others. Focus on the positive.
- Play games, and sing if possible!
- Notice where the love is in the room and tune in to how it shows up in your family.
- Practice gratitude.
As New England fall approaches, what a perfect time to practice hygge. As parents, hygge is a way to not only relax and enjoy your family, it also models the important practice of coming together even when there are difficult emotional issues and busy schedules at play. It sends the message that love and connection trump all. So, pull out your crockpot, slip into slippers, and light the fire – hygge at your house.
Mulled Wine for Hygge
1 (750 ml) bottle of dry red wine
2 oranges, sliced into rounds
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup honey or sugar
8 whole cloves
2-4 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
Optional Garnishes: orange slices, cinnamon sticks, lemon or lime wedges.
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a low simmer (not a boil -- you don't want to boil the alcohol out!) over low heat. Let the wine heat together for at least 30 minutes or up to a few hours. Often times, I put it on low in the crockpot and let it steep for half a day. Strain, and serve warm with your desired garnishes.