The Danish Practice That Will Up Your Family’s Happiness Factor

By Kristy Ramirez

My second cup of coffee is in my hands before 11 am, and a friend of mine perches on the couch across from me. Each week our kids play while we chat, and this week the topics are familiar: family life, hobbies, work-from-home challenges.

We sit and listen to the laughs of our children coming in through the screen door, and I realize that if offered anything in life, I wouldn’t know what to choose. I see reasons for contentment all around me, and I would define myself as mostly happy. Still, I struggle with anxiety and ungratefulness on a regular basis.

Why, when I have it so good, can’t I hold onto the happiness as the days press down? If I can’t do it, how will I teach my kids to live grateful lives?

I start searching to find out why the act of appreciating the abundance in which I live is so hard, and I stumble across the answer where I almost always find it: books. Specifically, books about the Danish concept of hygge, pronounced hoo-ga, and how it can change how we live, love, and parent. Reluctant but encouraged, I keep reading.

Why should we listen to the Danish?
Whether we are being told to parent like the French or give our kids the independence Japanese parents offer, it seems everyone has an opinion on the right technique for raising children. But the Danes may have the market cornered on happiness – something all of us want for ourselves and our offspring.

Denmark consistently ranks in the top three for happiest countries in the world. The term they associate with this phenomenon is hygge. Meik Wiking, author of “The Little Book of Hygge” and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, says it’s not an easy term to define. But Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of “The Book of Hygge” does just that, calling it “a universal feeling of being warm, safe, comforted, and sheltered.”

Hygge is taking the world by storm, and that’s why articles and books are dedicated to this concept. How is it that the Danes, who pay some of the highest taxes in the world and experience awful weather for a good portion of the year, are giving lessons on happiness? The answer seems to be that they know how to hygge, and for the sake of our parenting, we should, too.

Hygge’s connection to slow

Hygge is an ambling walk through the woods instead of a ferocious race to the finish line.

Candles lit, warm socks on, or hot chocolate by the fireplace, are all examples of hygge. Meeting with a few close friends to discuss life, not in a competitive or abrasive way, but in a way that allows each person to be heard and known, is definitely hygge. Hygge is about making life quality instead of one long list of to-do items to mark off. Hygge is an ambling walk through the woods instead of a ferocious race to the finish line.

Christine Louise Hohlbaum, author of “The Power of Slow”, believes that it’s the slow approach to life that helps the Danes achieve happiness. In a country where winter is an intense half-year event that steals sunlight, it’s necessary for the Danes to slow their pace and find ways to regularly pamper themselves as they go through this season.

In reality, this is necessary for all of us, even those of us who live in warm climates where winter is usually a blink that can be missed. Slowing down the life pace means pulling away from the rush. We can still accomplish meaningful tasks, but when we practice hygge regularly, we don’t mistake movement for progress.

We can see the meaning in gathering the kids for storytime under a homemade blanket fort as opposed to signing on to our work account to check in. Passing on constant, meticulously scheduled extra-curricular activities for our children is great, because it offers them more time to create pockets of peace where they can pursue interests for the sake of doing it.

Those pockets of peace are hygge.

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