When it comes to happiness, nobody does it better than the Danes, Swedes and Norwegians. Join in without having to travel, says Jenny Stallard
Thinking back to a time when the words ‘Nordic’ or ‘Scandi’ didn’t conjure up images of cosy blankets, wellbeing, relaxation and a different form of self-care feels like something of a challenge these days. Hygge is now entrenched in our vocabulary, synonymous with roaring fires, muted natural tones, blankets, wool, and all things cosy from cashmere socks to scarves and steaming mugs of cocoa.
Hygge roughly translates as ‘cosiness’ and is a Danish concept that’s become a worldwide trend – the word actually comes from old Norwegian, and embodies everything comforting, cosy, warm, snuggly… you get the gist. But as Hygge became mainstream, others followed. Enter Lagom, Fika, and even ‘Swedish Death Cleaning’.
Lets go inside
As the autumn and winter months progress, the nights becoming dark and soulful, the leaves falling from the trees and the frost littering the grass, we light candles, find cosy blankets, light fires and perhaps brew hot chocolate, all in the name of relaxation.
It may sound as if I’m making light of the ‘trend’, but it’s actually something that noticeably shifted during lockdown and the height of the Covid pandemic. Finland topped the World Happiness Report 2021 rankings for happiness, followed by Iceland and Denmark. Sweden was sixth and Norway 8th. The UK? Well, the UK was down the list a little, at 18th. Even during a pandemic, these Nordic countries had the edge when it came to feeling happier.
It’s less of a cliché and more hard fact that travelling north from our shores – to even colder countries, where it could be assumed life is more challenging and less cosy – brings increased relaxation, happiness, calm and positive wellbeing. It’s no fluke, either – these countries have been at the top of the list each year since 2013! The report, which can be found at worldhappiness.report, says: “Clearly, when it comes to the level of average life evaluations, the Nordic states are doing something right, but Nordic exceptionalism isn’t confined to citizens’ happiness. No matter whether we look at the state of democracy and political rights, lack of corruption, trust between citizens, felt safety, social cohesion, gender equality, equal distribution of incomes, Human Development Index, or many other global comparisons, one tends to find the Nordic countries in the global top spots.”
Surely in an environment and landscape where the temperatures plummet (Norway can boast a lowest-ever recorded temperature of -51.4 C, with January the coldest month) and darkness – or sometimes even more challenging, continuous daylight – prevail, how can it be that people are happier, more fulfilled and less stressed?
You have most likely heard of Hygge, but there are many other ways you can embrace that Nordic wellbeing and Scandi self-care vibe. Each one has its own unique angle, but all come together to essentially promote the idea that taking time to relax, be at one with our surroundings and to be in the moment all leave us feeling happier, and with more balanced mental health. In fact, if you’d like to, why not combine some of them?
Hygge’s new sibling is Lagom, which means ‘just the right amount’ or ‘just enough’. It’s about considering moderation, as well as thinking more long-term with your intentions. A cosy blanket which has been sustainably produced with the environment in mind, for example. Candles made locally, and buying those cosy socks from an independent retailer. It’s also about a more low-fuss way of going about things. For those who’ve slowed down during the pandemic and lockdowns, this might seem counter-productive, but you’re not saying ‘no’ you’re saying, ‘I’m going at my own pace’. Walk with the walk in mind, not just the destination. Listen to calming music and bake or cook something slow and long, like a stew, fresh bread or roasted vegetables.
Fun with Fika
Fika is the antidote to the ‘hiding away’ nature of Hygge and Lagom. This one’s all about meeting up (and we all want to do that again, right?) for coffee and cake with friends or loved ones. But it’s much more than just a quick coffee break – it’s a simple yet important ritual, and something that the Swedes believe we should take time out to enjoy every single day.
In Sweden, Allemansträtten means ‘everyman’s right’, or in other words, the right to roam. It’s a powerful word, allowing anyone to feel that they can go wherever they please, and whenever. In the UK, we have a world of pubic footpaths, national forests and parks, and beaches where we have the right to walk – and this is where we can find our own Scandi nature roaming moment.
You might just find yourself taking off your shoes to feel the sand or grass, or peering into rock pools and staring at moss. No fitness trackers here, it’s about each step, not the 10,000 total.
Swedish Death Cleaning
Hold on, death cleaning?! How is that going to make you happy? Well, here’s the thing – this is a clear out with a difference. The word for this is ‘Dosadning’ – ‘do’ meaning death, and sadning meaning cleaning. Essentially what you’re doing is putting your house, belongings and life in order, so that if you weren’t here, they’d be easier to sort for those you leave behind.
So why is it good for self-care? Well, you’re not only making things easier for loved ones, you are making sure that things they might not want to find (diaries, notes) are gone, and that in the present you are not surrounded by things that don’t serve you.
This article first appeared in issue 20 of Planet Mindful magazine. Want to live more mindfully? Check out more mindfulness techniques here.
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