Say hello dark nights, hello Hygge

The clocks go back an hour this weekend (at 2am on Sunday, October 30) which signals the longer dark nights and the imminent arrival of winter, But for me, there is something I look forward to at this time of the year, almost as much as the Autumn colours of nature all around us, and that is the excuse to celebrate all things 'Hygge'. 

Hygge - pronounced ‘hoo-gah’ is the Danish concept of living simply and cosily and coming from the Danes, who are reportedly the happiest nation on the planet*, maybe it’s something we should all get on board with.

Long before I read my first article on Hygge a few years ago,  around the time of the clocks changing each year, I would seek out my comfiest woolies and thick socks, wash all my fleecy, furry blankets in preparation, stock up on scented candles and start to increasingly turn down social invitations, favouring a night in with loved ones and a lit fire over a night on the town. What I didn't know was that I was in love with everything about the Scandinavian concept of Hygge,

Turns out, the word 'Hygge' dates back to the 18th century and is loosely connected to the English word hug. The concept is all about cherishing yourself, battening down the hatches and snuggling up which I am completely in favour of. The essence of 'self-love or self-compassion' is one of the the fundamental principles of yoga and Hygge for me is all about being kind to yourself, keeping life simple and being happy. There are also many parallels which can be drawn from the fundamental principles of yoga including self-love and gratitude, which are all celebrated when following the concept of Hygge.

How to Hygge

For me it is about embracing things – enjoying cake, not checking emails all weekend, spending time with friends and family. It’s about the simple, small pleasures that make life great, which perhaps sometimes pass us by. I teach Mindfulness to children, and I teach to notice and appreciate what is happening right now, in this exact moment - I guess 'Hygge' embraces enjoying life in a more mindful way.

Moments of Hygge can be anything from a cup of coffee in front of the fire, cashmere socks, dinner with friends, eating ice cream, an autumnal walk with your children, reading the Sunday papers, a dog asleep at your feet, hot chocolate or, of course, savouring a glass of red wine. (Which I have by my side as I write this)

So rather than chatting to a friend on the phone while you tidy, focus just on talking. Multi-tasking isn’t very Hygge. To embrace Hygge is also to appreciate downtime. There’s togetherness and this wonderful sense of being kind to yourself. One of the best explanations of Hygge I’ve heard is, “the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming”.

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The UK is lurking down in happiness stakes at number 23, so the Scandinavians are clearly doing something right.  Signe Johansen is a Norwegian chef I have worked with in my previous life of PR, and Signe has written a great book called How to Hygge: The Secret to Nordic Living (Bluebird, £14.99), to explain the principles of the Scandinavian ‘gratitude attitude’, and why we Brits could benefit from lighting a candle and leaving work on time once in awhile, not to mention stepping away from the pressure cooker of social media and wellness fads.

CELEBRATE THE SIMPLE THINGS IN LIFE

Something my son Freddie and I have started doing straight after school most days, is cracking open the cheese and biscuits. We make up crackers and cheese for each other as we talk about anything and everything. It's by far my favourite time of the day. As well as enjoying a snack, I get to spend time, importantly without any particular purpose, with Freddie. It's a simple pleasure and it's very Hygge.

Another fundamental Yoga principle for me is Gratitude, being grateful for what we have and 'Hygge' chimes with exactly that.

THERE ARE NO RULES

It may seem contradictory to begin a list of fundamentals with the declaration that there is no criteria but Signe highlights that that’s kind of the point:

Think mindfulness 2.0. It’s about relishing the simple things in life, stepping back and noticing the things that matter, but instead of looking inwards as you’re encouraged to in context of traditional mindfulness or meditation, it’s centred on looking outwards, restoring yourself socially and simple, everyday indulgences. It’s not concerned with perfection, it’s all about appreciation and living life well, but not necessarily by the book.
— Signe Johansen

KEEP INTERIORS SIMPLE

Signe sets a few things straight concerning the current image of Hygge pedaled by certain homewear stores: “Cakes, candles and Ikea are a great entry point, but not the be all and end all (incidentally the Danes burn more candles per head than any other country according to the European Candle Association). Hygge definitely runs deeper than that. It’s not fussy or materialistic, and it’s definitely not about wealth. In its essence, it’s about balance, self-sufficiency and a certain degree of ‘healthy hedonism.”

I use candles in all my evening yoga classes from October as I love the light and feeling you get from practicing yoga by candlelight.

GET OUTSIDE

If you search 'for images of Hygge' online, you'll be swamped by pictures of cosy blankets, drinking hot chocolate in front of a roaring log fire, and again while this is certainly a very Hygge situation, Hygge is also ‘earned’; it’s not a free pass to pure, unadulterated indulgence.

Getting outside in the fresh (cold) air is key to Scandi happiness, whether that be taking an hour to walk, taking your yoga practice outdoors or doing some gardening.

Signe says: “In fact, we prefer to exercise ourselves outdoors, as it exercises our brains too. Working out outdoors is meditative and energising in a way that working out in a stuffy, neon-lit gym just isn’t. Nature allows your mind to wander. We tend to take a more gentle approach, rather than a punishing gym session everyday. We don’t sit still, but we find a happy medium by hiking, biking and enjoying exercise with friends. This means that when we do have a slice of cake, it’s not gratuitous, and it's in balance with other activities in our life.”

THERE’S COFFEE, AND CAKE

Pass the Danish pastries, it’s Fika time:

Signe explains: “Fika is a concept that incorporates coffee, cake and conviviality. It’s a Swedish phrase, and the Swedes are adamant that having a moment to chat over cake and coffee during the day makes them not only happy, but more active and harmonious as a society. It’s an incentive to work hard in many an office, and it connects you socially as a team. As for the coffee, what can I say, we drink a lot of it. When it’s so dark and chilly, it becomes an essential.”

THERE IS BOOZE

Binge drinking is definitely not on the Hygge radar: The 'Hygge' approach is to enjoy a tipple for the taste, for the bonding experience and for the quality of the drink and definitely don’t cut it out completely. The Hygge approach is to enjoy alcohol, and find a moderate balance.

So however you Hygge, notice the simple pleasures in life, light a candle, oh and... please can you pass the cake?

Denmark took the top spot on the United Nation’s World Happiness Report in 2012, 2013 and 2016