Hygge and happiness – choosing friendship this new year

Sharing, being kind, relaxing with friends – Gay Search discovers how to hygge for the new year.

The latest export from Scandinavia to arrive on our shores along with snowflake sweaters, Scandi-noir thrillers and blonde wood IKEA furniture is the Danish concept of hygge. There is no direct translation in English of the word (pronounced ‘heurgha’) although some people say it shares a root with ‘hug’ or that it means something close to ‘cosy’ but without the negative connotations – dull, complacent, suburban- that word now has.

According to English writer Helen Russell who lived in Denmark for some years, the best definition she encountered is ‘the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things’.  So log fires on a chilly day are hygge, and so is candlelight. The Danes, apparently, burn more candles per head than anyone else in Europe. Dinner with good friends can be hygge and so is snuggling up on a sofa, under a fluffy blanket with a glass of wine and a good book.

The Danes know a thing or two about happiness. In a raft of recent surveys, including the latest World Happiness report, Denmark consistently comes out as the happiest place, while we British tend to be at or near the bottom. British children, in particular, were recently found to be some of the most miserable in Europe.

Denmark consistently comes out as the happiest place in recent surveys

Denmark consistently comes out as the happiest place in recent surveys

This contentment amongst Danes might be due to hygge, which is absolutely central to their culture and lifestyle and is certainly a way to accentuate the positive in those guaranteed long, cold winter months. While our actual climate is not as bleak as Denmark’s, our national mood at present might be why the concept of hygge (there are stacks of books on the subject out now!) has such a strong appeal for us at the moment.

While hygge is difficult to translate in one word, the essence of it is something close to kindness.  To incorporate hygge into our lives, maybe we can start by being kinder to ourselves? In these pressured and stressful times, we all beat ourselves up far too much about all our perceived failures – not being a better parent, a better colleague, a better child, even a better us.

This is not about being selfish. After all, the Bible says ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. If you have no love for yourself, you can have none for your neighbour. And only if we are kind to ourselves can we show genuine kindness to others.

Friendship – kindness given and received, if you like – is one of the greatest gifts we can offer.

Our families can be a great gift too, but we don’t choose them. Friendship is always a choice.

From that pool of friendship, surely kindness can ripple out to include other people – neighbours in the narrowest and the broadest sense, acquaintances, even strangers. Far too many people experience loneliness – elderly people who have no families, people with disabilities that are socially isolated, refugees who have fled unspeakable horrors without the comfort of any loved ones around them.

So, open your home to your closest, and not so close, friends this new year. Celebrate togetherness and give ourselves and each other a big, warm hygge!

Gay Search is a television presenter, writer and gardening and wellbeing expert. She is best known for her work on BBC’s Gardeners’ World and the groundbreaking series Front Gardens. Gay has also worked as gardening editor for Sainsbury magazine and has authored many books, including Delia’s Kitchen Garden with Delia Smith and The Healing Garden: Gardening for the Mind, Body and Soul which explores the wellbeing benefits of gardening. Gay is also an active speaker at arenas, presenting at Channel4’s ‘Grand Designs Live’ shows and is on the Royal Horticultural Society list of speakers.

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