I don’t know about you, but I found this January to be a bigger “blah” than normal. I suspect some of it was the flu, which knocked me out for a couple of weeks. Also, for the first time in a few years, we had actual snow that made the roads messy and our backs hurt. And I don’t know about you, but there’s something especially blah about those days after a storm when the snow is still there but gravel, and dirt, and a general greying pallor covers the once pristine white snow drifts.
And now it’s February, whose only redeeming qualities are that it is short and it isn’t January. But snow may still come, and colds too, and grey skies, and slush, and more blah.
So what do we do?
We know from living in temperate climates that the winter season brings a time of going inward, of dormancy, of germinating. And yes, that time can be and will be hard for some. But I also think at this time of year, it’s good to take a lesson from the people of Denmark.
That idea is called hygge (/ˈhʊg.ə/). And yes, the Danes are considered the happiest people in the world; despite the long hard winters, they have a small, well-educated population, gender equality, good health care, and government policies that promote the general welfare of its citizens.
Loosely translated, hygge is coziness and togetherness. But it’s more than that. Hygge is more of a mental coziness, an effect of how we are together. Blogger Louise Thomsen Brits describes hygge as
“The art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted and alive, to create well-being, connection and warmth, a feeling of belonging to the moment and to each other, celebrating the everyday.
“In our overstretched, complex, modern lives, hygge is a resourceful, tangible way to find deeper connection to our families, our communities, and our earth. It’s an uncomplicated, practical method of weaving the stuff of spirit and heart into daily life without sentimentality then taking time to celebrate it on a human scale.
“Hygge,” she concludes, “is about appreciation. It’s about how we give and receive. Hygge is about being, not having.”
In our personal lives, we know the power of hygge – gathering around the table for a shared meal, reading in a comfortable chair, wrapping up in blankets on a blustery afternoon, seeking shelter from the rain under a shop awning, baking pie in a warm kitchen, watching a favorite movie with a cat on your lap, watching the sunset with someone you care for. The things that keep us alert and aware and anxious – the phone, the newspaper, Facebook – are distinctly absent in these moments of personal hygge.
But hygge is not just an absence of things that might be overwhelming. It is in fact a very practical way of creating sanctuary in the middle of very real, hard, complicated life. It is “a kind of enchantment – inviting in warmth, simplicity, connection –making space for the heart and the imagination.” Hygge acknowledges the sacred in the secular – that there is something extraordinary in the ordinary.
Hygge provides space for us to rejuvenate and reclaim what we know is true. But hygge is intangible – it’s not just a comfortable space, it’s a comfortable experience. It’s freshly baked pie and the smells that evoke memories. It’s a warm fire and time to read. It’s a snuggly quilt and someone to cuddle with. In hygge, the stuff and the space create a sanctuary for our bodies and our spirits.
But it’s not enough to create hygge in our homes – with all that we face, it is vital that we create hygge in our religious communities. At its best, religious community is a shelter from the storm. It is a space set apart where we can release our angst and world weariness and breathe into the present moment. And yet it isn’t a place that simply holds the holy for us; rather, it helps us integrate our faith into the rhythm of our daily lives. It makes space for restoring loving and intimate connections with each other. It is the small rituals and gestures we undertake with each other in this sacred space that give everyday life its value and meaning, that comfort us, make us feel at home, rooted and generous. It is the safe space for learning and discussion that prepares us lovingly for the task ahead. It is the ever-present invitation to stop, be still, and give thanks.
And it is intentional. Hygge doesn’t happen by accident – as Brits says, “it’s an attitude, a considered practice. It takes effort to hygge.” Hygge is, as author and former monk Thomas Moore writes, “a theme that can be lived amid all the other dimensions of an engaged human life.” It doesn’t seek to hide the darkness but rather provide a light that reminds us the darkness of pain, sorrows, and troubles is not all there is.
When we are anxious and world worn, we can return to this faith community, where the sanctuary of hygge holds us and rejuvenates us, giving us space to put down our burdens and shift our perspectives from alienation to interdependence, from anxiety to open-heartedness, from weariness to welcome.
And maybe even combat the blahs.