Gettin' Hygge with it (7 and a half tips for a more joyful existence)
Alright, first up it's not pronounced 'Higgy'. Sorry - I've already led you astray. But who can resist a title like that? Today I'm breaking free from the shackles of food-bloggery to tell you about my favourite new thing, and how to get yourself some of it.
Hygge (pronounced 'hue-guh') is a Danish word, and, just like the Japanese word Komorebi (which describes the golden, dappled sunlight that filters through tree branches), or my favourite naughty German Schadenfreude (a pleasure derived from the misfortune of others), Hygge has no direct translation in English. But it should, because it is lovely.
Hygge describes a feeling. The kind of feeling you have when you sink into a warm bath, when you dunk dark chocolate biscuits (like these ones!) into hot mugs of tea, or cocoon yourself in thick, soft blankets with a bowl of popcorn. Strolls under fairy lights on warm summer evenings, candle lit bars tucked into alleyways, jazz bands playing Stan Getz, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens - pretty much everything Julie Andrews was going on about in The Sound Of Music. That feeling - can you put your finger on it? That's Hygge.
The problem is, we live in a fast paced fluorescent-bulbed world. A world where food can be deep fried, paid for and eaten in 3 minutes flat. Where we move from home to office in underground metro tubes, or cars with tinted windows that block out the sun. Our cities are so well-lit that starlight is obscured, as though we are visitors of an art gallery where the most beautiful paintings are hidden from view by white drop-sheets.
Like anaemic half-bored pinballs we ricochet from task to task, consumed by emails that need checking, gym memberships that need using, time sheets to be filled-in, and weekends so crammed so full of 'fun' that there's barely a moment to breathe before the next working week swells up around you like floodwater... That all just got a little intense didn't it. Never fear. Hygge is here. The Danes know what they're doing, and we could all stand to learn a thing or two from their mindful, indulgent and Hygge-rich lifestyles. So here are my 7 and a half recommendations to get a little more peace and tranquility, a little more candlelight and a little more joy into your life.
1. Get yourself some greenery
Whether you decide to walk along the beach or through a patch of secluded bushland, or to buy yourself a bunch of tulips and a few gnarled autumnal branches to put around the house, find some way of being a little closer to the natural world. It's infinitely more beautiful than most human creations.
2. Candles, fairy lights and lamps
There's something about having little pockets of warm light dotted around a house that just makes you feel cozy and calm. Get a string of fairy lights and drape them over a windowsill, find a second hand lamp and put it next to your comfiest sofa, or take a bath, surround yourself with candles, and watch their flames flicker while you soak.
3. Eat mindfully
I know I'm biased, but I think food is pretty much the best thing ever, and it ought to be enjoyed to its fullest extent! That means it's not just about the food itself, but all the things surrounding it. Buy yourself a beautiful plate. It doesn't have to match the others, just one you really love, and fill it with the brightest salad imaginable (like this one). Get a handmade bowl and fill it with homemade spaghetti topped with a hearty dollop of pesto. Or find yourself one of those giant mugs, the kind you fill with steaming hot chocolate then cup with two cold hands on a wintry morning. It might sound a bit over the top, but I swear that eating and drinking out of lovely things makes the food even better, and it's a great reminder to savour whatever you're eating.
4. Eat indulgently
A nice plate deserves a nice meal to go in it. You don't have to buy yourself caviar or $100 bottles of wine, but every now and then, allow yourself to get that really good bread from the deli down the road. Buy it when it's warm, get some proper, real butter (or make your own by whipping cream until it turns into butter and buttermilk - it's incredible!), find a quiet spot in the sunshine and savour everything in its delicious simplicity. Get a punnet of fresh blueberries and eat them in the park. Splurge a little on a bottle of red, and drink it from your favourite wine glass in the bath with a good book. A few wise old people have told me that life flashes past before you even realise where the years have gone. At the end of the day, these moments - the hot bread and fresh butter moments - are the ones that matter.
5. Ditch the screens
Ok I'm sure you've heard this one a million times already, but it's true. Software engineers have hacked our brains with these addictive devices (for a brilliant explanation of what iPhones are doing to our minds, read this). With our eyes glued to the screen we risk missing out on those real, unpredictable human connections that are both surprising and lovely. Leave your phone at home, go to your favourite cafe, order a mug of something hot and people-watch. Invite your friends for dinner and leave the technology at the front door. Resist the impulse to photograph a sunset and try to commit it to memory instead (that's one I'm especially bad at!).
6. Have more quality time
I heard something the other day that made a big impression on me. This man was talking about how we postpone the things that are important to us, always imagining that we have so much more time than we really do. He used the example of how much time he has left to spend with his parents (they are 70). He said in the past he would think 'oh I have at least another decade to spend in their company'. Then he stopped one day and realised that he only takes a trip to visit them once each year. Suddenly a decade shrank down to just ten more visits to be with them. This realisation didn't make him upset, but it did impress upon him the huge importance of making sure the moments he spent with his parents were meaningful.
I think this idea could be applied to all of our lives. Not because time is running out, but because it is so valuable. This is advice for myself as much as for anyone else: next time I go to visit my parents, I will leave my phone in my bag. When my littlest nephew asks me to chase him down the hallway for the 20th time, I'll do it. When I have breakfast in the garden, instead of writing lists about all the things I have to do, instead of scrolling through newsfeeds, I'll try to stop and notice the birds in the trees, the bees harvesting the pollen from the flowers. It doesn't matter how long life is if we spend all our time harassed, scattered and distracted. Take a pause whenever you can, to do something you enjoy, with the people you love most.
It's easy to forget how lovely smells are. There's a reason the idiom 'take time to stop and smell the roses' hasn't faded from our collective consciousness. And though it refers more broadly to the idea that we should take time to stop and appreciate the world around us, a pretty good way to do that is to literally stop and smell the roses. Face it, it's very hard not to be present with your face in a daffodil. Did you know you have neurons in your nose? They dangle down through a teeny thin bone that has lots of holes in it, and they feed olfactory (smell) information directly back into your brain. Other senses, like sight and hearing pass through a brain structure called the Thalamus. The Thalamus is a bit like a brain post-office. It takes the incoming sensory information, sorts it, then sends it off to different areas in the brain. This doesn't happen with smell, it bypasses the Thalamus, which means its path to other areas of the brain is more direct. This might be why our memories for smells from our childhood remains so strong throughout our lives. Anyhoo. The point is smells are great and if you want a truly immersive Hygge experience, make sure you've got some Hygge scents wafting around. Think cinnamon and clove scented candles, vanilla hand creams, strawberry bubble bath. Better yet, cook yourself some fresh Anzac biscuits in the afternoon and your house will smell delicious all night!
'7 and a half tips?' I hear you query...
...well yeah. Because there are actually a million other lovely things you can do to get a little more Hygge into your life, and I decided they're best conveyed in one long, stream-of-consciousness paragraph. So here you go:
Go to farmers markets, buy fresh apples, stick them in the fridge and eat them when they're cold and crunchy with a sprinkling of granola on top... visit an outdoor theatre on a summer evening, bring a big wooden blanket and a bottle of wine... go for picnics, ALL THE TIME... get a thermos, put some tea in it, get up extra early on a winter's morning and watch the sun rise over the ocean... spend a night sleeping under the open sky and fall asleep waiting for shooting stars... cook fresh bread... drink tea from a teapot instead of using teabags (the sound of pouring tea is one of life's most wonderful noises)... whip your own cream and while you're whipping it add a little icing sugar and the seeds from a vanilla pod, spread it on a scoop of hazelnut ice-cream and leave it to freeze like a delicious creamy ice-cream shell... find a tree on a warm day and read a book underneath it... get a bubble bath collection... play Billie Holliday, and Ella Fitzgerald while cooking risotto and drinking white wine... go swimming in the rain... get fluffy slippers and a giant marshmallow dressing gown and spend an entire Saturday lounging and drinking tea... buy cut glass tumblers from an op shop and stick tea light candles inside them... light a fire in your backyard (careful, careful), wrap potatoes in aluminium foil and throw them onto the smouldering coals, they'll cook through and come out smoky and delicious, eat them with butter that you've whipped with garlic and rosemary...
Alright, I could probably go on about this endlessly, but I'd better leave it there for now. If you have any more Hygge recommendations please leave them for me in the comments!
Happy Hygge-ing one and all!