Helping takes a toll on the nervous system. Whether you are parenting, supporting a family member or friend, or working in the healthcare industry; undoubtedly, acts of service deplete us.
This is especially the case when we struggle with setting limits on our compassion. We may know, intellectually, that compassion is not a renewable resource. That we must cap it - and take some back for ourselves - if we are to sustain it.
And yet. For so many of us, when we set the boundaries that we so fundamentally need, we feel guilty.
This guilt is an old guilt, a memory of past wounding. It is not giving us any helpful information about our current reality. It is It is a guilt that can invade any time we do take aside for ourselves.
We may sometimes choose to allow ourselves to experience and move through this guilt, such as when in therapy. Typically, however, we benefit from simply toning it down. To ensure that it does not control us, our experience, our behaviour. Rob us of our ability to care for ourselves.
Enter Hygge. Hygge is a Danish way of life that is all about enjoying life's simple pleasures. It perhaps explains why the Danes consistently rank number one in happiness rankings.
Hygge asks people to tune into what they subjectively experience as pleasurable - and to set aside time to engage in pleasurable activities. It provides a lovely counterpoint to a compulsive helper mentality: conditioning self-worth on one's usefulness to other people or causes.
Many compulsive helpers struggle in identifying activities or experiences they find pleasurable. This is because we have dedicated so much of our energy over time helping others or being productive. Asking ourselves what brings us pleasure is new! It can be overwhelming, especially if we think too big, too fast.
Hygge breaks this down for us. What scents do you enjoy? What simple activities get your blood flowing? What makes you feel cozy? What connects you to your body, to nature? For me, lately, this has involved playing a crackling fireplace on a screen, lighting scented candles, baking simple treats. A hot bath after spending time outside, gazing at naked trees, Christmas lights, patterns in the snow. Cozy TV paired with self-massage.
Importantly, Hygge isn't just about refreshing so that we can resume slogging away for others. It is culturally valued for it's own sake. If we could only internalize this - that our simple, everyday pleasures, are inherently valuable. Not just as ways to keep us going, doing, producing, helping.
Practicing Hygge can be a neat way to enact this paradigm shift, reinforce this core belief - that our experiences matter - for their own sake.
Small children intuitively know this, as do animals. They operate on the basic assumption that feeling good - delighting in a back rub, a tickle, yummy food, a fun game - is what life is all about.
Hygge can be a path toward living a life that feels good, rather than a life that only looks good. Simple pleasures are also an excellent way to reconnect to our True Selves, to what makes us come alive.
What would it be like, if we valued our own experience of simple pleasures as much as we value external markers of success or service?
To quote American poet Mary Oliver:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Most of us helpers have focused way too hard for way too long on being "good." Good for others, good for the world, maybe even good for ourselves, but in a harsh and overwhelming way. What would it be like to let ourselves connect with our simple pleasures, and then say - Yes! This matters! This, too, is good!
For some more specific ideas on bringing more Hygge into your life, check out this post by another psychotherapist.
Have a Hygge New Year!