Throughout the day, our eyes dart from one social media post to the next. Unbeknownst to us, each of those visuals create tiny blips of emotion in our minds – most of them negative. Comparison, insecurity, envy and outrage ebb and flow.
The music that comes out these days often sounds like a cacophony of jarring synthetic noises, and leaves us more agitated than relaxed. Sometimes, all this make me wonder – how can we navigate this non-stop onslaught on our senses? Is there a way to feed our senses, and our hearts, in a way that nourishes us?
This is why the chapter Five Dimensions of Hygge in Meik Wiking‘s book, made me sit up and take note. Hygge (hyoo-gah) has become quite a catchword in lifestyle since Wiking, a happiness researcher, wrote a bestseller called The Little Book of Hygge – The Danish Way to Living Well. The word itself is not easily translatable, and stands for an ethereal feeling of cosy comfort that warms up our souls.
Year after year, a lifestyle founded on the spirit of hygge has put Denmark at the top of the happiness list. That said, how can we take a mystical-sounding concept like the ‘cosiness of the soul’, and sort it into actionable steps to achieve more happiness in our lives? How can we hone our five senses for more hygge experiences?
Magic is really only the utilization of the entire spectrum of the senses.
― Michael Scott, The Alchemyst
Danes are obsessed with the quality of their lighting, and understandably so. Good lighting helps them survive their long, dark winters that stretch from October to March, with another 179 days of rain thrown in for good measure. To brighten up these bleak days, people of Denmark install warm lighting in their homes; temperature of those lights close to that of sunset or candlelight (1800 Kelvin).
It doesn’t require money to light a room correctly, but it does require culture.
– Poul Henningsen (Danish designer of the iconic PH lamps)
Swapping your fluorescent tube for a warm lightbulb is a quick and easy way to add more hygge to your life. And so is burning candles in the evening. Danes have the distinction of being the biggest candle-burners in all of Europe. Nothing fancy, just regular candles. Expensive perfumed candles are considered unnatural and therefore less hygge.
Just like light, colors too influence our emotions. Typical hygge colors are dark and natural. But nature is a riot of colors. Imagine the the sparkling blue ocean stretching to the horizon, or look at a lush green garden after a rain. Blue and green calms us down, and brings out a more serene side of us. A bright red dress or lipstick on a woman is considered sexy by a lot of men. Whereas grey can make you feel dull.
A holistic treatment method called color therapy or chromotherapy uses color and light to balance the body’s energy centers called chakras. Whether we believe in chakras or find it woo-woo, colors do have an effect on our emotions.
Completely changing the color palette of your home is not easy or practical. You can add a splash of your chosen color via cushions, artifacts, wall hangings, a painting or flowers. Or even by the color of the clothes you wear. And how about bringing some cheerful plants home?
Another sensory aspect of hygge is watching slow movements like flickering of flames, raindrops dripping from leaves after a shower, a river flowing etc. Slow natural movements and pleasant colors can together create cosy comfort.
A loving touch can fix us a happy cocktail of chemicals and hormones, such as endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin. Never miss a chance to hug a loved one, or to give a pat of encouragement. It can reduce stress, boost our immune system, encourage social bonding and give us an overall sense of well-being.
Natural textures like wood, wool, the fur of your dog, are all high on hygge factor. Running your fingers over them makes you feel warm and cosy. Smaller things made by real craftmanship are more hygge than shiny swanky stuff.
“The rustic, organic surface of something imperfect and something that has been or will be affected by age appeals to the touch of hygge”
The sounds of hygge are the sounds of a safe environment. The soft conversations in our homes while growing up, the laughter of our best friends, are all music to our ears. Sound and music stimulte areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory. This is probably why a lot of Youtubers are incorporating ASMR sounds into their videos.
In his best-selling book, Think Like a Monk, author and famous podcast host Jay Shetty advises us to sound-engineer our life. Our brain is processing the sounds around us even when we are not conscious of it. Whether it’s playing our favorite music, or chanting, or simply switching to a more pleasant ringtone, we can live happier and healthier lives by being intentional about what we listen to.
It isn’t entirely unexpected that hygge can also be found in the absence of noise. Silence allows us to hear the more subtle sounds of nature, and of our daily lives. The sound of chai frothing as it is poured into cups, birds chirping in the morning, our favorite food sizzling in the pan. Paying attention to this gentle and familiar soundtrack of our lives soothes our soul.
These days while I wash the dishes and wind down for the night, I start the playlist of oldies from my childhood. As Kishore Kumar yodels and croons, I unconsciously smile, and everything feels all right with the world again.
Nothing triggers memories the way smell does. The best smells are the ones that take you back to a time and place where you felt safe.
When I was a child I used to spend summer holidays at my grandparents’ place up in the mountains. Every morning we kids would wake up to the smell of home-grown coffe brewing, mingled with wood smoke and the hushed voices of adults speaking in the kitchen. To this day, a mix of wood smoke and the mountain air is my drug of choice. It takes me back to how I used to feel as a child, away from the worries of the world.
We all have our comfort food. When I get stressed I reach for icecream; if there’s no icecream I can manage with anything high on carbs. We also celebrate with food. We love our traditional food, what is native to us, what we grew up eating. It is the taste of home. And of hygge.
Generally, hygge is sweet. But comfort food has been found to vary with gender. While men favor savory food like steak, women like myself usually go for ice cream and chocolate.
THE SIXTH SENSE OF HYGGE
PIGLET: “How do you spell love?”
WINNIE THE POOH: “You don’t spell it, you feel it.”
Finally, everything considered, hygge is a feeling. You trust the ones you are with and you feel safe. You feel you can be completely yourself around these people. And in life you get a feeling about the path you need to take next. This inner knowing is sometimes more valuable than what you experience through your senses. Do enjoy the pleasant sensations of your senses, and stay open to the sixth sense of hygge.