December 17th, 2017
Candles glowed, a mug of hot chocolate beside the laptop. Quiet Christmas music played in the background, my dog curled up beside me, as I worked on this reflection on hygge last night.
One definition of hygge (hoo-ga) is “cocoa by candlelight”. Last night was hygge.
We are going to enjoying hot chocolate after service today.
So we can be hoo-ga-ly together.
The hygge concept left Denmark a couple of years ago and has become popularized by books, blogs, and design.
Hygge is a Danish term that suggests “a quality of presence and a feeling of belongingness and togetherness.
It is a feeling of being warm, safe, comforted, and sheltered…. Hygge is about being, not having.” (Louisa Thomsen Britts, The Book of Hygge)
It has no exact translation in english, although it might be closest to hominess.
Hygge has been called “the art of creating intimacy”, “taking pleasure in the presence of soothing things” and “cosy togetherness.”
A hygge emergency kit – for when you need some quality time at home – consists of candles, chocolate, a good book and warm socks.
Hygge has evolved into a design style of simple, clean lines and natural materials, like wood and textiles.
And while hygge is now another way to sell sweaters, it is actually more about creating a particular atmosphere to shape our experiences.
It’s about togetherness and presence.
Meik Wiking, author of the Little Book of Hygge, tells a story about spending the weekend with friends at an old cabin a few days before Christmas.
It’s the shortest day of the year, snow covers the land as they hike back to the cabin.
The sun sets as they return at 4 in the afternoon. They head inside to light a fire.
Tired after hiking, half asleep, the friends, wearing big sweaters and woolen socks, sit around the fireplace, just watching the flames, not speaking.
The stew bubbles softly on the stove, the fire crackles and sparks.
One friend breaks the silence, “Could this be any more hygge?”
After a quiet moment’s thought, another friend nods, “yes, if there was a storm raging outside.”
That’s hygge (hoo-ga), to be with friends, warm and safe, in the midst of a storm.
While I worry about this being a topic of middle class privilege, and it is partly that, it is also about values and meaning.
We live in a society where productivity, action, accomplishing things, is valued highly.
Successful people are those who achieve, reach the highest rungs of the ladder, make the most money.
Competition and challenges make for adversarial way of being.
Some people thrive on this kind of life, they love to rise to challenges, come alive with the engagement of their intellect, the exertion of their will. But living in a competitive way doesn’t work for everybody, and can be exhausting even for those who enjoy it.
For others, who measure accomplishment in other ways, our social expectations can be deeply dissatisfying.
As Parker Palmer notes, this kind of community tends to scare the soul away.
“In spaces ranging from [offices] to classrooms, we preach and teach, assert and argue, claim and proclaim, admonish and advise, and generally behave in ways that drive everything original and wild into hiding.
Under these conditions, the intellect, emotions, will and ego may emerge, but not the soul: we scare off all the soulful things, like respectful relationships, goodwill, and hope.”
Hygge (hoo-ga) is about creating a different kind of communal atmosphere, one of simplicity and presence.
It is about being with people and nurturing those relationships.
I believe hygge is a way build soulful things like respectful relationships, goodwill, and hope.
Hygge engages the soul, our wild animal souls, as Parker Palmer says.
“Our souls are like wild animals…tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self-sufficient: [they]know how to survive in hard places, …tough and tenacious.
Yet despite its toughness, the soul is also shy.
Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around.
If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out.
But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently at the base of a tree, breathe with the earth,
and fade into our surroundings, the wild creature we seek might put in an appearance.
We may see it only briefly and only out of the corner of an eye—but the sight is a gift we will always treasure as an end in itself.” (Parker Palmer)
Hygge is about creating those quiet spaces, trying to create the cosiness of the soul, so that it may come out of hiding.
In today’s stormy weather, both literal and figurative, we need safe spaces that invite the soul to be seen.
It’s not easy to do this, it takes time.
It takes intention and effort.
Trust is needed to create spaces safe for intimacy.
Being together with others reminds us we are not alone.
Our emotional well being is restored when we know we are accepted as we are.
Hygge helps build the relationships that will hold us when we are battered by the storms, helps us to feel better, and provide a sense of hope.
We need hygge moments right now.
May we all have places and people where we can experience the pleasures of a hygge (hoo-ga) life.
I discovered the concept last Christmas looking for family gifts and finding several books on the Danish way of hygge.
Candlelight, tea, cake and good company, hygge sounded like my idea of a great evening. I love the warm golden light of living flame.
I recently burnt through a coaster and turned an area on my white desk brown in an attempt to burn a candle in a tin all the way the down.
I didn’t want to lose the warm glow.
I may take living hoo-ga too far.
But Denmark is considered one of the happiest countries in the world, ranking high on several markers of well-being.
Which might be a surprise considering it has high taxes, terrible weather, and everyone wears black and watches bleak shows about serial killers.
Denmark also enjoys universal health care, free university education, and generous unemployment benefits.
Living in a hygge way is far easier when basic needs are met.
Denmark has high levels of social trust as well as a sense of freedom over their lives, supporting positive well being.
The wealth gap between rich and poor is minimal.
Finally, Danes have a good work balance, the average work week is 37 hours and vacation time is generous.
This allows people time to build close relationships through socializing.
Work life is not seen as the only life.
In an achievement oriented society, we forget this.
I invite you all to close your eyes for a moment.
Think of the last time you felt really happy. You won’t be sharing this memory with anyone.
Just think of a time you felt really happy. Re-live the memory in your mind.
Thank you. Raise your hand if you were with other people in your happy memory.
The best predictor of happiness is our social relationships.
It’s why most of you had happy moments with others.
And in hoo-ga, there is an emphasis on togetherness with others.
It’s about hanging out with people you care about.
The atmosphere should be warm, comfortable and welcoming, like a big hug, so that you feel you can relaxed and be yourself.
Even let your soul emerge.
Hygge is “the art of expanding your comfort zone to include others.” (Meik Wiking)
Here at UCM we strive to welcome everyone as they are, so that all may feel they belong.
It’s not so easy to achieve hygge in a public space, but we hope that everyone leaves feeling better then when they arrived.
We hope that each of us is warmed by the chalice flame and restored by the experience.
That your soul finds calm in this time together.
Hygge is a form of mindfulness, a way of living your life with full attention to the moment.
It is a way to be present.
To notice the tea you are drinking, to truly listen to the person who is speaking.
Hygge values the small pleasures in life like hot chocolate or playing board games with friends.
It’s about enjoying a snowy day.
Hygge encourages gratitude for these everyday moments.
Hygge has an element of equality. It isn’t about one person providing all the hospitality, but about people working together. Our Christmas dinner last week is a good example of Hygge living, as we shared the tasks of the meal.
Hygge represents several of our UU principles. The worth of each person, a desire for peace and harmony, equality of all, and heart felt appreciation of the natural world. Hygge is a way of creating experiences that build trust and connection among people.
But it isn’t perfect.
Hygge is nurtured by long standing relationships, which can make it exclusive.
Hygge seeks harmony and so avoids conflict. It doesn’t deal with issues of justice.
Denmark has been challenged by the influx of Syrian refugees, and hasn’t responded in a welcoming way. Living hygge is not utopia.
But the best version of hygge can be inclusive, opening up to one another and connecting across difference.
(story – florescent lighting for syrians is hygge – reminder of homeland)
It celebrates the simple pleasures of being alive, encouraging presence.
Hygge creates a safe space for our souls.
I hope this is the best version of Unitarian Universalism as well, as we seek to honour and welcome people as they are.
I want people to find time together, gathered around our chalice flame, whether on a Sunday morning or at a meeting, to be a comfort.
Know that these moments are a balm for the soul, allowing us to go out into the storms, restored.
My hope for all of us in the holiday time to come is that we all find some time to experience hygge,that we find ourselves at ease, relaxed, with people who know us and love us.
In the coming days, may we all enjoy candle light and hot chocolate.
And fuzzy socks
So Say We All.