Using the "Hygge" Belief as a Resource for Healthy Living

Using the "Hygge" Belief as a Resource for Healthy Living

For centuries Scandinavians have consistently ranked one of the happiest and healthiest cultures on the globe. How does a climate with record-setting cold temperatures keep warm, stay happy and most impressively healthy?  Hygge (pronounced HYOO-guh) a word with many meanings to the Nordic people, such as well-being, ‘the good life’ and slowing down. This Scandinavian cultural belief embraces the environment by embracing ‘the good’ in their climate and their people. The ever-changing environment and four seasons, play a huge role in the shaping of their health, creating many physical, mental and emotional challenges to overcome.  The Hygge tradition helps shape the human experience by celebrating the offerings of the natural surrounding environment. Hygge practices are present through implicit and explicit intentions in the Scandinavian culture that stimulate nourishment, simplicity, and connectivity, especially during their long winter season.

There are several nourishing traditions to invite warmth into the Hygge influenced the atmosphere. When approaching a Scandinavian home, the large windows surrounding the house will often be lined with lit lanterns and tall tapered burning candles, giving the feeling of keeping the cool exterior out and the warm interior in.  This visually warms the soul and invites loved ones in the community to come in, warm up and get cozy.  Once a guest has arrived, they are often greeted with a big wool blanket and a mug of homemade mulled wine, Gløgg. Gløgg (often pronounced Gloooog) is a traditional Scandinavian recipe known to warm you from the inside out, by slightly raising the temperature of your mouth and stomach causing a blushing reaction. It is made up of cinnamon, cardamom, raisins, vanilla pods, almond bitters, red wine, port, and brandy.  It is even historically prescribed to aid ailments from shoveling snow.5 Once the tone is set with candlelight, cozy blankets and warming mulled wine, the body naturally begins to relax and feel more expansive.  Easy healing follows through playful conversation, laughter and maybe even a fireside nap.

The winter months are long for the Nordic country, to cope, the Hygge belief encourages simple living by slowing down, bringing the outside in and finding beauty in what is ordinary.  Winter often receives a bad reputation across the globe as a time of year with many headaches and obstacles to overcome. But instead of focusing on just surviving, the Scandinavians have chosen to capitalize on this quiet, dormant time of year.  They intentionally take the chill out of the spirit as a way to harmonize with–––, not combat or stave off––the darkness of winter. This simple thinking sets a value of being present and practicing the art of being. Harmony is found through simple interior design ideas.  Such as, painting white walls to bounce off natural light that is coming in from intentionally placed windows. Scandinavians recognize the importance of natural daylight. Daylight is so essential for well-being, and they tend to be happier when there is more of it.  Because there are so few daylight hours during in the winter, Scandinavian homes are designed to let as much light in as possible. Natural elements, such as wood, are common finishing of Nordic homes, used often as flooring, wall paneling, and furniture.  This demonstrates the true meaning of bringing the outside in. Minimal decorating additionally supports the anti-consumerism value of the culture.  It is common to observe furniture being used practically, not decoratively.  Therefore, clean lines and affordable materials are used in the furniture design.  Well-loved (e.g. dents and scratches) pieces in the home are completely acceptable even in areas of the home that are often considered by most cultures as formal (e.g. the dining room). This is because Scandinavians like to turn what seems ordinary into something beautiful. Living simply and within their means demonstrate the appreciation of three simple realities: 1.) nothing lasts 2.) nothing is finished and 3.) nothing is perfect.  In turn, prioritizing the relationship with people over the relationship with things.

Connecting with loved ones is at the center of the Hygge tradition. Homes are designed to have open floor plans, large dining room tables and several family traditions, such as the Christmas tree, to nurture story-telling and togetherness.  The fireplace often takes center stage of an open floor plan in the Nordic home. As a practicality for keeping the home warm, chimneys often cover a large surface area, are made of brick, to hold warmth and run floor to the basement, to allow all floors of the home to benefit from the wood-burning heat.  Naturally, the members of the household gather around them to keep warm.  The fireplace in the kitchen is always accompanied by a large family-style dinner table, often raw wood and lined with candles down the center.  High-back chairs accessorized with a wool lap blanket encourages long, comfortable sitting for conversing.  One side of the table is sometimes a padded bench to allow for numerous visitors to easily join and comfortably be at the table.  In addition to this winter ritual of daily mealtime, the culture has several other sacred intentions throughout the cold months that stimulate positivity, gathering, and story-telling.  The Christmas tree tradition is probably one of the more prominent Hygge influenced traditions for the Scandinavian.  Similar to the values of decorating their home, the Christmas tree tradition also brings the outside in.  It encourages family bonding by experiencing the outdoor elements together.  They hike through the snowy woods to identify the perfect evergreen tree for trimming.  It is then placed inside the home, often near a large window to bring light, magic, and celebration to the family indoors and to the neighborhood outdoors.  The tree is trimmed with ornaments that have been collected through the years, often memories of trips taken or special people met throughout the family’s life.  These ornaments trigger organic moments of story-telling and prayer.  Children, and willing adults, sometimes get creative by making trimmings for the tree.  Traditionally, the materials used to follow the same anti-materialism Hygge value, therefore all materials are sourced in the home or from the natural environment outside, such as popcorn, winterberries and pine cones. This act of connecting with loved ones by connecting with the environment is a simple value of the Scandinavian culture that brings great joy to their people.

Scandinavians look forward to this time of year of early sunsets.  Hygge, a word that carries so much meaning to their people: the good life, well-being, slowing down, finding beauty in the ordinary, bringing the outside in, a concept that many––even the Scandinavians––have a hard time fully communicating with one word or even a set of words.  Instead, it demonstrates a ‘feeling’ that needs to be experienced with your whole, mind-body-spirit to fully understand.  It is this ‘feeling’ or way of life that brings health to the Nordic land, especially during the long winter months, through many practices that stimulate nourishment, simplicity, and connectivity throughout the culture’s human experience.

References: 

Creagh, L., Kaberg, H., Lane, M. B., & Frampton, K. (2008). Modern Swedish design: Three Founding Texts. NY: Thordis Arrhenius.

Halen, W., & Wickman, K. (2003). Scandinavian design beyond the myth: Fifty years of design from the Nordic countries. Stockholm: Arvinius.

The Economist. (2013, February 2). The Secret of their Success. 

Huffington Post. (2014, January 23). Glogg: An Ancient Hot Spiced Wine Recipe for Apres    Shoveling. [Blog Post]. 

Need Supply Co. (2014, April 20). Danish Tradition of Hygge. [Blog Post]. 

Hygge. (2013, June 19). Wabi-Sabi. [Blog Post]. 

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