I adore my New York Magazine subscription. I know I can almost always read the stories in the print edition on my phone or laptop but there’s something about holding the physical copy in my hand and reading it on the subway that just makes me feel SO good. (It’s also just easier on my aging eyeballs.)
This week they really nailed the cover story… How to be Happy. Which is of course also available online so you can read it too. (But grab it off a newsstand if you can, if only so we don’t all wind up like the humans in WALL-E.)
The story is structured around the most popular course at Yale– Psychology and the Good Life. Why is it so popular? Because college kids are more stressed and depressed than they ever have been before. And arguably, so are the rest of us. The article takes a skim across the course curriculum and its structure. A huge chunk of the course is focused on how our brains trick us into making us unhappy and then moves on to how to rewire our behaviors to be happier. Our brains are basically sabotaging us. Which is depressing to even think about. My favorite takeaway from this portion was that 40 percent of our happiness is entirely within our control. Holy shit.
I will not go on to recap the article here but I strongly suggest you give yourself the time to read it. Which brings me to where I wanted to get to… TIME. The breakdown is this: people are happier when they have more time to just BE than when given some extra money.
Living in a city like New York, it is so hard to see the value in having empty time. It’s a city of hustlers, the city that doesn’t sleep. But filling every waking hour with work, with side hustles, with stuff just to feel “busy” is making us depressed. The misconception is that “busy” means productive and “free time” means lazy.
I have been so guilty of this it’s not even funny at this point. I used fill every wakeful hour with whatever I could. I thought I was being productive. But by the end of the year (for many years) I didn’t move the needle much on any of my goals. I had just kept myself busy and stressed for essentially, the sake of being busy and stressed. I was trying to match the busy and stressed out lives of my peers. Which makes me sad just thinking about it.
This article has come at such a good time for me. I have been exploring self care, meditation, and relaxation techniques for the past year. It’s insane to think that I have to research how to be chilled out, that I actually have to read articles about this to learn that it’s OK to spend an entire weeknight just resting… but I do. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that almost all of us have work to do in this department.
Happiness and success in America have always been measured by money and by time spent working… things that stress us and depress us. It’s time to flip the switch and change how we talk about ourselves and each other. If a friend likes to spend every Thursday night sitting in a coffee shop alone reading our reaction should be “Wow good for them for carving that time out,” instead of “Shouldn’t they be working on their small business idea?” And the next time you want to spend an hour reading a book, let yourself. Give yourself the time and space you need to be truly happy. I know I am trying.
When I first read of Hygge — the Danish art of enjoying small comforts — a couple of months ago, I was thrilled to find a word for the feeling and environment I’ve been creating for most of my life. It turns out that my mother was quite a natural with hygge and I’ve oh-so-thankfully inherited her attention to detail when it comes to creating “a moment.” As this is the first time in my life a trend has come naturally to me, I’ve created this guide to getting your hygge on in a city that isn’t always accepting of staying home and getting comfy.
What is Hygge exactly?
Hygge does not translate to English directly, but is often described as the feeling or mood that comes from making ordinary moments special, of being intimate, and of getting downright comfy. There is a lot of speculation as to why Danes put so much emphasis on making home a perfect escape but it generally boils down to the fact that the weather is often terrible, there is little to do, and going out to eat is rather expensive. To compensate, they heighten the experiences of everyday activities and find joy in even the smallest things. I often think of Mindfulness when reading about hygge, as they are built on similar pillars.
Based on these definitions and speculations, I imagine the reason that my mother and I (and many people that we know) are already hygge-ing because we are not just American, but we are New Englanders. If weather and low funds ultimately created hygge then of course New Englanders are naturals! Why else do you think Yankee Candle is such a big deal to us? We love staying home and being cozy, there’s no doubt about that.
Why New York?
Listen, anyone can take these tips and use them anywhere, but I just find that the people confined to city lifestyles (read: few trees, very busy) are the ones who are most likely doing very little in the way of hygge and are probably the ones who could benefit most from it. Now on to it…
Take it Easy
Hygge is a feeling and it takes time to cultivate it. Rushing it or forcing it by going out and buying a bunch of stuff isn’t going to make you feel better and it certainly isn’t hygge. The whole notion is to take pleasure in the small things you already have or do and elevate them. Stay mindful. Apply the following tips to your life slowly. Light a candle once a week to start, maybe on Sunday nights, or set aside the first hour of every Saturday morning to reading. Start small and then grow.
If you don’t have the pleasure of working from home like some, you will have to face the commute home which is more often then not, grueling. You do not want to take bad energy into your safe place. The first thing I do after a long day is take my dog for a brisk walk without my cell phone. The disconnected, fresh-air bonding moment with my dog changes my thinking and eases me into my evening. If you don’t have a pooch, try getting off the train a stop earlier and walking home. Stop for some flowers or a warm tea and unwind your mind. No phone checking!
Make Home Your Haven
To properly hygge you have to go home and you have to stay there, so what your space feels like to you is an important part of the whole process. It should feel cozy and inviting. If you live with roommates, hygge your bedroom so it becomes your comfy cave of solitude. A good room is one that upon seeing it, you no longer have FOMO or the desire to leave it. You want to remain there for hours, totally blissful. Hygge objects bring you happiness; they give off warmth or are in colors that evoke warmth.
After walking my dog, the first thing I do once home is light the multiple candles around my apartment and turn on the string lights and LED candles I also have strewn about. I never turn on my overheard lights unless I’m in the kitchen (they’re SO harsh) and I switch into my comfiest clothes, including fuzzy socks. I leave blankets out for extra coziness. We all live in small places so there’s no need for you to go overboard with new fuzzy pillows and animal hide purchases. Take what you have and work with it! Here are some items that are easy to have in an apartment to create a hygge environment:
Candles… literally everywhere
Clothes that relax you
Lavender oil for your sheets and/or blankets
Framed photographs of your favorite people
Items from your childhood home
Favorite books on display
Succulent plants or cacti
Enjoy the Moment
Hygge is not just your environment but how you treat yourself and others in that environment. Take time to pause and enjoy even the smallest of moments. Indulge in being alive. Have a special tea or cocoa on hand, pick up a brand new book to read, take a long hot bath, massage your partner’s shoulders, share stories with your friends. Relish these moments as if they are the only time you have to enjoy them. The list of hygge moments is endless, because really it is what makes you happy, but here are some of my personal favorites that work in the city.
If someone invites you to dinner, invite them over instead for hot tea and intimate conversation
Have a special mug you only use for cocoa
Take a walk the moment it starts snowing
Spend a Saturday reading in bed
Bake a favorite treat that has less than 10 ingredients (or maybe even 5!)
Turn off your phone for an hour
Turn off your phone for longer than an hour
Stay in your own neighborhood for a whole weekend, cook dinner each night
Put a crackling log video on your TV
Instead of going to a bar, have everyone over for mulled wine and a board game. Make it an BYOFS (Bring Your Own Fuzzy Socks) event
Pop popcorn the old school way
Take a freakin’ nap!
Eat comfort food
Call your mom and get an old recipe…and then make it
Sure, I’d love to hygge everyday, all day. But we have jobs. We have goals. We have lives. I get it. We live in a big bad city with friends all over the place. I am not advising you to stop doing the things that make you tick or make you successful, I am advising you to set time aside in your insane schedule to just be. Remember what it was like when you were a kid and had no way to get anywhere? Couldn’t leave the house? Couldn’t drive? With a lack of options, you found ways to pass the time that made you happy. You read, you colored, you made forts, and played games with your siblings. You made up languages and took naps and dreamed of your future. We still need time for these endeavors! If all that sounds overwhelming for now, at least find one way to hygge during the day. Yes, it’s possible. Here are my favorites:
Take a 5-10 minute walk during your work day
Look at the people in the coffee shop, not at your phone
Sit on your couch for 10 minutes at the end of your day before doing anything else
Hold hands with your partner on your commute
Flirt with the stranger that held the door open for you
Try and memorize a poem while on the subway
Lotion your hands at every opportunity
Light a candle at your desk (I really do this now)
Decorate your cube or space to the most your company allows
Take your heels off under your desk (cheeky, right?)
Listen to your coworker after you ask them how they are…really, truly listen
Have one piece of chocolate and savor it
Melt a chocolate in your morning coffee
Keep a special tea in your desk drawer
I know we aren’t Danish. I know we are busy. But enjoying the smallest moments in your life and really, truly, taking the time to honor them is an important part of being happy. Stop yearning after the yacht, and enjoy the toy boat in your bathtub.
Something I am really determined to learn is how to be mindful and present in every moment that comes my way. I thought that sharing my journey with you could be fruitful for both of us because I believe that being aware of our feelings, surroundings, and reactions is not only healing but can help us to move forward.
The official textbook/dictionary definition of mindfulness is:
A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
I am a very aware person, I tend to always key into everything around me: how I’m feeling, what I’ve done, how my choices are affecting my life etc. Mindfulness is the next step in the process. It’s not enough to just say “I’m really crabby” but accepting it as my current state and letting it pass through me, experiencing it and seeing it for what it truly is. I tend to be the person who gets crabby or upset about something and then get upset with my behavior, thus dragging me further down. I can also get a little nuts and think that everything is the end of the world.
This will be an interesting journey together as I weave my way through mindfulness and accepting it into my daily life. Years ago I went to therapy and learned to not be ashamed of my emotions, it saved my life. I want to welcome that back and go deeper. I’ve created a small starter printable for all of us to use in general or when we’re feeling particularly overwhelmed. We can get into meditation later!
Click the image to open it into a PDF for downloading and saving!