Embracing the Calm Found in Hygge

This article was originally featured in the Heroes Journal, a quarterly magazine published by an amazing nonprofit called Heroes Homestead. To learn more about the incredible work Heroes Homestead is doing for our Veterans, click here.

What is hygge, and how on earth do you pronounce it? Hygge, pronounced hue-guh, is a concept created by the people of Denmark to combat the depression that can set in when you live in a place with long, dark winters. It was a new way of life – a life that encouraged you to embrace the winters, rather than dread them.

The Danes yearned for a way to look forward to the frigid dark season ahead of them, so they created one, and it worked! To date, Denmark is one of the happiest nations in the world, and their happiness is widely attributed to the fact that hygge is a core part of their culture. They traded in their grouchiness and dread, for gratitude and exciting rituals.

To put it simply and impactfully: Embracing hygge means implementing habits and traditions that lead to a calmer, cozier, more intentional way of living. You don’t need long winters or inclement weather to embrace hygge, just the desire to feel more joy and comfort in your day to day life.

When my husband got out of the military and we moved back home, I knew we would need new habits and rituals that would help with the transition. With his panic and anxiety disorder, finding ways to wind down and self-soothe became vital. We turned our home into an oasis where comfort was king. When the sun sets we turn on lamps and string lights, and light candles. When I get home from work we put on our favorite lounge clothes and cook dinner together. And when tensions are exceptionally high, we pull out all the stops: Lights down, a long hot shower, comfy clothes and blankets on, “cup of calm” tea, lavender oil, and word games. Hygge is the perfect lifestyle to help turn chaos into calm.

I know you may still be feeling a little vague about WHAT hygge is, so here’s a few bullet points to sum it up.

Hygge (hue-guh) is a lifestyle focused on:

  • Cozying up
  • Doing everyday tasks with magic and intention
  • Creating fun, comforting rituals
  • Building environments that are warm and inviting
  • Embracing connection and friendship
  • Hot drinks, comfy clothes, hearty meals, blankets, warm lighting, delicious treats, laughter, and joy

Before we go into all the different ways you can embrace hygge in your everyday life, I’d like to show you the guide that really helped put this concept into perspective for me – The Hygge Manifesto (originally created by Meik Wiking in The Little Book of Hygge):

Now that we’re more familiar with WHAT hygge is, let’s cover some real, actionable ways you can incorporate it into your day-to-day life:

  1. Make a habit of paying attention to light. Fluorescent lighting is the opposite of hygge, so think warm, comforting tones. When you plan to spend time in a room: Turn on your warmest lamps, light a few candles, and see how the lighting affects your mood.
  2. Indulge in delicious treats. Drink more tea, coffee, hot cider, and hot cocoa – If you have a hot beverage in hand, you will be forced to slow down. And If you want a sweet treat, have one. Life’s simplest pleasures can be found in a freshly baked loaf of banana bread.
  3. Get super comfortable. When you get done with your daily priorities, change into the most comfortable thing you own. Whatever you’re most comfortable wearing, put it on. And remember the four S’s: Socks, Slippers, Sweatpants, and Sweaters.
  4. Keep things light. Obviously the hard conversations will always need to be had, but make the rest of your conversations light, joyous and positive. Let go of biases, grudges and drama.
  5. Really grasp how wonderful the safety and shelter of your home is. Your home should be an oasis – a calm and cozy shelter that harbors you from the elements. You are very blessed to be able to look out into the wild, knowing that you’re safe.
  6. Be fully present whenever possible. It’s so easy to do everything distractedly, but you can’t focus on savoring sweet moments if you’re only half-there. Put the phone down, take a few breaths to clear your mind of the day’s worries, and be right there, in the moment. Your friends and family need your full attention, and being present is very hygge.
  7. Find ways to be more harmonious. This is exceptionally difficult for those of us with strong views and big personalities, but competition has a time and a place, and hygge-times are rarely them. There’s no shame in mellowing out based on your surroundings.
  8. Create equality in all aspects of life. One must feel equal, to feel hygge. So share the load – Help your husband take out the trash, or do the dishes if the wife usually does. Choose to listen if you normally speak, or give praise if you normally receive it.
  9. Soak in each moment like it’s your last. Maybe that’s a little cliché, but you know it’s true. Play catch just a little longer, scratch the dog’s ears a little extra, linger during the hug goodbye. Find gratitude in each day, in each moment, and let it wash over you. Life is good.
  10. Together is the best place to be. After all, the concept of hygge was birthed to be enjoyed together. Find your people and let them know how thankful you are to have them in your life. Time spent with the people we love is where life’s most special memories are formed.

I’d say at this point, we all have some new ideas and rituals to put into play. I think that hygge is first a foremost, a mindset shift. A shift that could benefit every veteran family, especially those who are newly transitioning into civilian life. The stillness can be overwhelming at first, but once you figure out how to embrace it, the magic truly begins. And if creating a calm, cozy, more intentional life is something you crave, you’ve definitely found the right inspiration. I’ve spent the past few years studying hygge and it has made my husband and I both more calm, grateful and happy.

If you take anything from this article, let it be this: Make small changes each day that bring more hygge into your life, don’t be afraid to say the word out loud (HUE-GUH), and remember this “Hygge is about making the most of what we have in abundance: the everyday” – Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge.

For more hygge resources, I highly recommend reading “The Little Book of Hygge” by Meik Wiking, you can also learn more about hygge from these posts on my blog.

What the F is Fika?

Excuse me? You kiss your mother with that mouth? What is this Fika? Why should you care?

Fika: An important part of Swedish culture – it means “making time for friends and colleagues to share a cup of coffee (or tea) and a little something to eat.”
Oh, so, a coffee date? Put simply, yes. But you know I’m not here to put things simply… So, surprise! There’s more to it than that. 😉

It’s funny (not), I drafted this post in November 2019. November and December of 2019 were horrible for reasons I wont go into… So I figured I’d come back to writing it when I was in a better place emotionally, then 2020 happened. 10 months later and I’m READY to talk about fika.

Fika is a social concept. It requires 1) going out 2) with friends 3) drinking coffee and eating together 4) hugging, connecting, and conversing.
2020 hates Fika. So I almost didn’t write this post.
But the reality is, we need some damn Fika right now, my friends.

As is said on the Swedish Culture blog Hej Sweden : “Swedish people – often described as distant, calm and unsocial – love their fika. It gives them the opportunity to meet and hang out with friends, get to know new people, check out potential partners or network with business folks”. Covid has created this fear of being around our friends and I think that as long as we’re all responsible, aware of our bodies and how they’re feeling, and hygienic, we can (and should) make this work.

Mid way into writing this post, I was looking for images that represent fika and I came across a photo of the cast of FRIENDS. I couldn’t help but think – man, they “went for fika” just about every single day, that’s how it should be.

It was their favorite thing to do together, and for good reason –
it’s good for your health to go grab coffee with your friends.

Ready to start going out for fika? Here’s what you need:

No.1) C O F F E E: Fika first and foremost means “to break for coffee” so of course, you need something to sip on. But tea works too! Get a hot or cold beverage and sit down to savor it. Sip slowly, and appreciate the satisfaction a delicious beverage brings.
Pro tip: Order an americano with white chocolate & toasted marshmallow, half sweet, with an inch of cream (or alt. milk). Thank me later. 😉

No.2) T R E A T S: The second element to fika is getting a treat! It may be a small meal, or just a quick sweet pick-me-up. Whether savory or sweet, take time to fully embrace it. How’s the taste? Texture? Smell? What does it remind you of? Take it all in.
Pro tip: Try a scone! They’re incredibly under-rated and deserve way more praise than they get. Savory scones are amazing too.

No.3) F R I E N D S: Going to a coffee shop alone is a wonderful treat, but going with a close friend to catch up is a whole other type of magic. Visit your favorite coffee shop with your closest confidant, or maybe a pal from your past, and get lost in conversation and reminiscing.
Pro tip: Ask your friend (and vice-versa) what some of their favorite flavors are, whether they want hot or cold, and their milk preference; then order drinks for each other as a fun out-of-the-norm surprise.

No.4) R E L A X: Possibly the most important element of them all, this is a time to relax and unwind. Just as the cast of FRIENDS does, let your guard down and really enjoy each other’s company. Actively listen. Have meaningful conversations. Sit in a comfortable chair or couch. Going for fika should be restful and rejuvinating.
Pro tip: Find a secluded area in the cafe or coffee shop for you and your friend(s). The easier it is to hear one another, and let your guard down without fear of others overhearing, the more relaxed you’ll be.

I think you know enough now to take fika into your own hands. Now you just have to make it happen. Call up your friend for a Saturday coffee date. Let them know you learned about this thing called fika and you want to give it a shot. Most importantly, have some good coffee & great conversations.