I seem to be continuously obsessed with Hygge; with the Danish version of cozy that feels particularly helpful in the winter months. So obsessed, that my blogpost last winter was also about Hygge.
What is it, and why do I love it so much?
Hygge is the Danish way of valuing life's simple pleasures, cozy experiences. Of tuning into one's body, and one's unique personal preferences, to discover and savour simple experiences that feel ... good!
As a mother, a therapist, and a recovering people-pleaser myself, it can be tough at times to maintain a sense that my own comfort, my own simple experiences and pleasures, are important. Are in fact, central: not only to sustaining my ability to care for others but, moreover, to living a day to day life that feels good enough, that has enough of connecting to myself and to my ever-evolving sense of pleasure, comfort, and self-soothing.
People-pleasing patterns are coping strategies for a complex mix of core pain: namely, fear and shame. The fear that others will abandon or reject me if I am not pleasing enough, and, relatedly, the shame of feeling not enough just as I am.
This fear and shame can create unique barriers for people-pleasers in accessing hygge. They also, I believe, make hygge particularly powerful in creating change, in helping to transform fear into safety and shame into a sense of worthiness and healthy entitlement.
For those of us that worry, it can be scary to carve out time for ourselves, outside of revenue-generating activities or care-providing roles. What if we don't have enough time for what we need to do in order to survive, succeed, care-take? Can we really risk indulging in this way?
Relatedly, many of us have received messages early on that this kind of self-care, of resting, playing, engaging in simple experiences that delight us, is selfish. That somehow, we don't deserve this kind of time and attention for ourselves, that we should be doing something more productive, or more for others.
Enter Hygge. Hygge can be particularly well-suited to comfort our nervous systems when we are scared. This kind of self-soothing asks us to identify experiences that our most comforting to us as individuals, while at the same time having classic experiences that may be particularly hygge. These include lighting candles, enjoying warm drinks, and curling up in an especially cozy corner of the home (hyggekrog aka hygge nook).
When we are anxious or distressed in some way, it can be hard, in the moment, to work directly with our thoughts and feelings. Gifting ourselves these kinds of simple, comforting experiences can be a more accessible way to regulate our nervous systems.
When thinking about Hygge as self-soothing, I am particularly fond of the kind of Hygge that involves an element of danger, of non-hygge (uhygge), that we have controlled. That's why it feels particularly comforting sit in my hygge nook by the window during a snowstorm. Outside, it is cold, uncomfortable, harsh, and I am inside, safe, cozy, and protected. I feel grateful for my shelter, and gratitude (which is very hygge!) furthers the sense that I am safe.
Relatedly, I particularly enjoy warm baths - or even a warm drink - after spending time outside in the cold. In addition to simply feeling good, going from feeling cold and uncomfortable to warm and cozy can foster confidence in one's ability to soothe physical discomfort. This can perhaps bolster confidence in one's ability to self-sooth more generally, which is particularly needed when we are distressed.
Hygge can also be particularly helpful for working with the shame that people-pleasers know well, the sense that I am not enough as I am. If, instead of acting from critical voices, I engage in simple pleasurable experiences, I teach myself that I MATTER. That my simple pleasures matter. That my comfort matters. That my body matters. That I am deserving of pleasure and rest.
The more we hygge, the more this gets internalized. We come to believe that we are worthy of care, pleasure, rest. We may even find ourselves building lives centering our own well-being, that are more balanced, more worth living!
So: join me! Discover your hygge, and weave cozy into these short winter days!
Identifying experiences for yourself that feel cozy is a very personal journey.
If you are newer to tuning into your own joy and pleasure, I invite you to be especially gentle with yourself. Start small!
Hygge is a practice. And it will change over time!
Perhaps begin with the more classic hygge experiences and see if they feel good. Light a candle or two, take a warm bath, make a hot cup of cocoa. Watch a cozy TV show with some popcorn.
Experiment! Learn what simple experiences make you feel good! And perhaps, ones that don't. That's good information too. You will probably need to try certain things multiple times to know for sure, like a good researcher.
Because the ongoing discovery of what makes you feel good is a delight. It is a balm for life's hardships. It is powerful, it is radical, it is worthwhile. Perhaps one of the most worthwhile endeavours for people-pleasers!
To re-quote Mary Oliver: You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
What simple experiences make you feel good?