It’s a new year – a new decade even – and a time for making new promises to ourselves. For some of us that might be spending more time with family and friends or developing habits to live a healthier lifestyle. No matter what your exact resolution says, I bet one of the overarching goals is to be happier.
But what is happiness? How do we define it? Where can we find it? Believe it or not, the United Nations compiles a report every year of the world’s happiest countries. Topping the list this last year was Finland, the year before that, Denmark, and the year before that, Norway – so it’s safe to say, the Nordic countries are dominating when it comes to happiness. While there are a number of factors that could be contributing to this level of happiness such as their 26.7 hour average workweeks, 52-week parental leave policies, or their lack of obesity and other related health-problems, there are a number of factors working against them. These countries are also known for their frigid temperatures and severe lack of daylight during the winter months which can be a source of seasonal depression for so many. What’s the secret? Most Danes will cite it as hygge (pronounced “HOO-Geh”). According to Meik Wiking, C.E.O. of the Happiness Research Institute, hygge is “the art of creating a nice atmosphere. So it’s about togetherness. It’s about pleasure. It’s about warmth. It’s about relaxation.”
Before you go out and buy a new pair of wool socks, splurge for that chunky knit blanket, or go wild on bath bombs it’s important to know – hygge can’t be bought. When I first heard of hygge two years ago on a Freakonomics podcast entitled “How to Be Happy”, a portion of the podcast touched on gratitude. The happiest people are also the most thankful. They don’t feel the need to acquire more things (whether that be possessions or otherwise) which in turn leaves them feeling more content (related to the Swedish concept of lagom but that’s for another time). This inspired me to evaluate opportunities where I could be more thankful in my own life. For a year, I committed to writing at least one letter a week to someone in my life I was thankful for. The experience was so rewarding, and I began exchanging letters with friends and family all over the world including one AOII sister serving the Peace Corp in Tonga. I was able to enjoy this feeling of togetherness every time I opened my mailbox and letter writing became a relaxing hobby for me.
The following year, I committed to happiness by setting a volunteer goal for myself. I wanted to find a community partner that offered a sustainable and ethical opportunity for me to serve where I could have a positive impact on others for at least 100 hours. Volunteering was something I did during my semester abroad that brought me such fulfillment and I figured, why stop in college? I researched various organizations and opportunities and then finally chose to be a Senior Companion. Every week I got the chance to make a difference in the experience of another and it, like the letter writing, has become a consistent part of my life – this happier life – I am building for myself.
Whatever your goals may be this year – find ways to better connect with people, take care of yourself, and find a little piece of hygge in your daily life.
- Incorporate a discussion about embracing hygge into a Behind Happy Faces module within your chapter. Talk about ways to appreciate each other, de-stress during midterms and finals, or how to boost hygge at your next sisterhood!
- Write a New Year’s Resolution including how you’ll embrace hygge in your everyday life – perhaps keeping a journal of the things that made you feel happy or something that just brought you a moment of peace that day. If you’re a one of those who keep a creative bullet journal – share your goals or happy moments on social media, don’t forget to tag AOII!
- Check out some of the popular books about hygge like The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way of Living Well by Meik Wiking or The Year of Living Danishly: My Twelve Months Unearthing the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell
- Find a hobby, such as volunteering, that brings you happiness and helps relax you during those hectic times, better yet – bring a sister along to share the experience with!
For Alumnae Chapters
- Choose a book for book club that focuses on hygge to discuss such as those suggested or find other books that focus on happiness. You might even choose an international theme for the year and find different concepts to learn about like lagom.
- Open your events to families, dates, and mates so that everyone can enjoy time together and sisters don’t have to choose between people they love!
Lindsey Forbes is an alumna of Delta Nu (U of Nevada, Reno) and a member of the Education Committee.