Thursday, August 9, 2018

Hygge: Danish Delight

On Fridays Esther and I take care of our two sweet granddaughters. One is two years old and the other is one and a half. In spite of the fact that they are a joy to be with, after 9 grueling hours of watching them and trying to keep up with them, we are usually exhausted.

This past Friday, I deliberately repeated the word “hygge” (pronounced hue-guh) whenever I felt overwhelmed. It was a bit like using a key word to help return to the important center during Centering Prayer.

I first heard of the Danish concept of hygge from a book called Four Gifts by April Yamasaki that I am reviewing. According to Alex Beauchamp on her website “Hygge House,” hygge is “a conscious appreciation, a certain slowness, and the ability to not just be present – but recognize and enjoy the present.”

With my granddaughters, I wanted to slow down and enjoy the present. I wanted to savor the precious moments as much as I could, and not be overwhelmed by their energy. After all, I will not be with them forever.

Apparently, this concept was developed by the Danes in order to be able to survive the boredom of the long winters nights in Denmark. Beyond the sense of presence, according to Beauchamp, adjectives that describe the concept are “coziness, charm, happiness, contentedness, security, familiarity, comfort, reassurance, kinship, and simplicity.”

That list of adjectives reads like the anthesis of US American obsessive, burned-out, stressed-out and cut-off culture. While we idealize and seek to embody those concepts, little in our lifestyles allows us the freedom to reach them.

In her book, Yamasaki elaborates a little more on the concept: “Hygge means community with enough for all, casual simplicity, comfort food with friends, a mug of hot chocolate by the fireplace, warm socks, and much more.” Perhaps our culture indulges in comfort food with friends, hot chocolate by the fireplace and warm socks, but unless I am mistaken with my observations, we really fall short on community with enough for all and casual simplicity.

The discussion on hygge comes in Yamasaki’s chapter on “soul care,” or what she calls “self-care.” Her book broaches self-care on four levels as in Jesus’ great commandment: “Mind, heart, soul and strength.”

I hope that Esther and I are creating a sense of security, contentedness, familiarity, and kingship with our granddaughters. I hope that they will always carry with them memories of coziness and comfort at their “Grosi” and “Bubu’s” house. I hope we can cultivate these feelings whether it’s in the heat of summer or the dead of winter. Above all, I hope we can create these perceptions in their hearts in spite of how tired we might be.

Hygge is probably easier for retired grandparents to cultivate for their grandchildren than for parents who are in the midst of building a career, establishing a home and defining who they are as persons within their society. Esther and I tried our best to develop most of those concepts with our home and family, but perhaps failed at too many of them because of our moving around, changing jobs and too often living too far from extended family.

US American society could use a good dose of hygge We take too few vacations that aren’t working vacations and have too few pauses in our weeks to kick back and and smell the coffee in spite of all sorts of advice to the contrary. We are probably the most overworked and stressed-out people on earth, and technology has made it even worse. Although created to make our lives easier and to save time, the fact is, technology has allowed us to accomplish much more than ever thought possible, demanding more and more of our time. I experienced this increased demand on my time exponentially during my career as a teacher.

In the book my sister and I wrote The Spacious Heart we devote a whole chapter on what we loosely defined as “Holy Leisure.” As I read back over that chapter now, I think we were trying to develop the concept of hygge in our readers.

Relax, take it easy, stop and smell the roses or the coffee, make your life and home a charming, cozy, contented place of comfort.

Hygge, the delight the Danes gave us. It is indeed care for the soul.

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