How Embracing Hygge Culture Helped With My Anxiety About The Future

By Anna Livia Brady··  9 min read
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hygge culture

There’s an old saying that goes, “the journey is the reward.” But for me, “the journey” was just the agonizing stepping stone to get to the destination, or so it seemed.

Insert the Hygge (pronounced Hoo-gah) Renaissance of recent years. In a world that seems completely engorged with a #hustle state of mind (even when most of us are working from home), Hygge culture may be an answer to our unintentional prayers. 

There’s Joy in Slowing Down

If you had told my younger self that there’s joy in slowing down and enjoying life’s simple pleasures rather than always anticipating the next dream, I probably would have giggled. After all, the long car rides of my childhood across California didn’t always seem pleasant. For me (and I’m sure for lots of others too), “the journey” was just the agonizing stepping stone to get to the destination. 

That being said, it certainly wasn’t all bad — when I do look back on my high school days, I often forget about the anxiety, the drama, or the agony of being (occasionally) dress coded. What I do recall is a blur of time with beloved friends, valuable lessons from teachers, and the hope (not the fear) of a bright future ahead of me. The times that I did worry felt like the worst in the world — but only at that moment. The moments where I slowed down with loved ones are the ones I’ve carried on into the semi-real world of college life. 

The moments where I slowed down with loved ones are the ones I’ve carried on in memory.

As a soon-to-be college graduate, I’ve come to this conclusion about slow living — with age, we often find that looking back, our best times were the ones we weren’t expecting to be the best, and those “huge milestones” that everyone hyped up so much were, in fact, not as huge as anticipated. A few examples that come to mind include a few of my married friends who say that the best part of their wedding days weren’t the festivities but the quiet moments the morning after, sipping coffee as husband and wife. 

But, what if there’s a global pandemic? Not going to lie, that scenario isn’t ideal. But for both myself and tons of other people, it at least caused me to slow the heck down. When Coronavirus hit, and I had to stay home, I wasn’t devastated, but I did default to more than a few worst-case scenarios in my head. But now that I’ve been home for nearly three months, I’ve benefited from the time and the opportunity to take it slow.

Hygge is a Danish lifestyle that emphasizes the present moment and simple pleasures.

The Danes know how to live slow! The Danish theme of Hygge is a lifestyle that favors slow, meaningful living rather than a hectic, hustler mentality. You may have heard of hygge years ago (I’m a bit of an anti-hipster in that I like things long after they’re cool), but if you’re still lost, let me provide a few examples. Unplugging from your devices and enjoying cocoa and puzzles with your family — hygge. Making a meal, bread, and dessert from scratch — very hygge. Dimming lights, lighting candles, and listening to music on vinyl — super hygge

Hygge is “the pursuit of simple happiness.”

To really understand Hygge, I picked up Meik Wiking’s renowned Little Book Of Hygge, which lays out the motifs of warmth, peace, tactility, and old-fashionedness. Now, my room is filled with plants and cushions, I’ve perfected my Danish pastry technique, and I can’t wait to make a homemade “Skipper Stew” for my closest friends, followed by sipping wine while watching a rom-com. I may be locked up, but I’ve got a roof over my head, I’m surrounded by family, and I’ve got the ingredients for a lovely loaf of bread — so why not enjoy it while it lasts? 

Without further ado, here’s how embracing Hygge culture has helped to shift my quarantine perspective for the better. 

1. We Only Have This Moment (and That’s Okay). 

Recently, I started listening to Rachel Hollis’ RISE podcast for my Career Strategies class. One of the most poignant things she said was that, during this pandemic, we feel as if we’ve lost control over our situations. But the truth is, we never had full control anyway! Just by being human, we’re subject to vulnerability and hardship. We can plan everything down to the last detail, but the truth is, we’re not necessarily guaranteed a set amount of time. If you’ve ever seen Mama Mia: Here We Go Again, imagine that scene where Mia sets up a beautiful outdoor ceremony and it’s knocked over by a storm (happens to the best of us). 

So much of our time is lost by forgetting to make the little moments more liveable.

The bright side of this revelation? What we do have is this moment, and Hygge culture fosters a sense of gratitude by inspiring people to slow down and partake in the present. Feeling overwhelmed? Listen to the rain outside instead of researching exact weather patterns for the next seven days. Got an extra hour? Bake a fresh batch of cookies instead of worrying about what the next few months of life will look like for you (just focus on the next hour). So much of our time is lost by forgetting to make the little moments more liveable — it’s time for us to welcome them! 

2. Homemade Reigns Supreme 

In Wiking’s book, he makes it clear that Hygge cuisine doesn’t involve going to the most expensive restaurant, eating Lobster Thermidor with Baked Alaska for dessert. Real Hygge food, on the contrary, is rustic, homemade, and comforting. Embodying the Hygge approach to cooking means being as involved in your meal as possible, such as picking which cut of meat will go in your stew, seasoning it to perfection, and possibly even adding homegrown produce to it. 

Being involved in the process of meal making allows people to truly appreciate every aspect of it.

Being involved in the process of meal making allows people to truly appreciate every aspect of it — and being stuck at home has opened the doors for so many people to get creative in the kitchen! Some projects have turned out great (just search #HomemadeSourdough on Instagram to see what I mean). Some, not so much. But the salient point is that you did this yourself and truly benefited from the challenge. 

3. There’s Pleasure in Moderation 

With all his talk of cake, candy, and fat-laden dishes like “Braised Pork Cheeks in Dark Stout” (that’s a recipe included in The Little Book Of Hygge), it may seem a wonder why Wiking is in good health. But — wonder deciphered — the key to treating yourself (Hygge-style) is moderation. Don’t eat too indulgently. Slow down and savor. 

In my family, there’s an unspoken rule that if we fix a special dish, we’re obliged to share with everyone. That’s helped me stay moderate with my baking during this time: If I make one cake and let everyone have some (I live with my parents, six siblings, and grandparents), the whole thing will likely be gone after dinner. And that’s great! Allowing everyone to have a finite amount of goodies together allows for community, moderation, and shared enjoyment. 

Don’t eat too indulgently. Slow down and savor.

Wiking has a fantastic tip regarding the concept of moderation. He says that you should feel free to treat yourself to a box of high-quality chocolates when you feel like it. The catch? You should then only allow yourself to eat one of those chocolates daily or weekly. Not only is this approach more economical than pigging out with a box of See’s, but by pacing yourself, you have a wonderful moment to look forward to every day or week. 

4. We Feel Safest When There’s Danger Outside 

Does this heading sound misleading? Let me explain. Think of a cold winter night. We gather with family and friends around a crackling fire inside, drink a pot of cocoa, and exchange our fondest memories, safe from the storm outside. It’s the coldest days that prompt us to fill our homes with glowing candles, homey decorations, and hot, comforting foods. We feel especially warm and safe in our homes because there’s a contrasting element outside — the cold and the snow.  

We feel especially warm and safe in our homes because there’s a contrasting element outside — the cold and the snow.  

This pandemic is a bit similar. It seems pretty unnerving outdoors, but the uncertainty of the future makes us appreciate the comforts of home all the more. Let me be clear —  I’m still praying for this sickness to go away as soon as possible. But during the pre-COVID days, home was just a place to shower, eat, and sleep. Now, it’s where I live. I plan to go out as much as possible once it’s safe to do so, but I’ll also make sure that the place I reside is as welcoming as it can be when I don’t. 

5. Hygge Is for Everyone

Our Danish friends may be some of the happiest people in the world, but you don’t have to be Danish to enjoy some Hygge in your life! Hygge is “the pursuit of simple happiness,” which is, as Wiking himself said, is extremely subjective. For some, hygge could mean enjoying a cup of coffee while listening to the birds outside. To others, it could mean watching a funny movie with a loved one over Zoom. Everyone’s entitled to the pursuit of slow living and happiness! 

We all celebrate. We all mourn. We all have things that make us happy.

Learning more about Hygge culture has helped me to see how similar everyone on this planet is. We all celebrate. We all mourn. We all have things that make us happy. Having a Hygge time means putting aside all controversies and simply enjoying one another’s company. Heck, an ideal Hyggelig (Hygge-like) night would include one’s closest friends from all walks of life, enough food and festivities for everyone to enjoy, and the expectation of equality (no one steps on a soapbox, and everyone helps out with chores).

Closing Thoughts

As I can imagine most young women are at this point, I’m ready to spend time with my friends, go hiking, and have coffee in my favorite spots again. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the benefits of keeping things Hygge at home. We’re not sure what the future’s going to look like — we’re just people. But we can bake, share, laugh, reminisce, and appreciate the present in the meantime.

  Mental Health
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