Think of that feeling when you are cozy. Lit candles are scattered around the room, good food is in your belly, and a hot cup of tea is in your hands. Maybe you are alone, on a no-work day, sitting on the couch with a good book and no bra on under your old, tattered T-shirt from college. Perhaps you’re with your favorite people. You’re outside on the deck as the sun sets. The first bottle of wine is gone, the second is on its way. Within the hour, you are all up-to-date on each other’s lives and are now onto the good stuff; hearing the latest on Jane’s crazy mother-in-law and how Jack forgot their anniversary again. This feeling of comfortable contentedness has a name, coined by the Danes: Hygge, and they practice it daily.
So it comes as no surprise that according to the World Happiness Report, Denmark has remained in the top three of the happiest countries.
I consider myself a happy person, but who doesn’t want to grab a piece of the “happiest people in the world” pie? My problem with reaching this particular brand of delight is that my current job has me focused on three young humans. The only lit candles we have in this house are the ones that come on a birthday cake, and I can barely finish a sentence at a party before I’m interrupted by one of my kids telling me they clogged the toilet or that they need help getting another drink because the last one spilled.
When you have a child under the age of two, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where hygge could be achieved regularly. That age group will enthusiastically throw themselves down a flight of stairs, smash their fingers in anything that closes, and explore everything with their mouths. I once found a quarter in my son’s diaper. It had already been digested. I have no idea how or when it happened, but it gave me nightmares for months. At this phase of life you feel victorious if you even manage to get a shower two days in a row.
Recently, I explained hygge to my two boys. I asked them what they thought about trying it out. The older one said it sounded awesome as long as we could sit in front of the TV the whole time. My five-year-old said that it would be okay as long as he could go to the pool or playground. They obviously didn’t fully grasp the concept.
Despite their lack of enthusiasm and understanding, I still wanted to achieve hygge as a family. So I dedicated three days to it.
On Day One, I woke up excited. My husband had already left for work. I could hear snores coming from downstairs. All my hygge dreams had come true as I laid in bed, sipped coffee, and flipped between Catfish and Property Brothers.
Halfway through my first cup of coffee, my five-year-old silently came in and snuggled next to me. Within five minutes, he needed answers. What was going on in the show and why do you get to watch TV when it isn’t a “screen day”? Why do you like this show? Can we watch Daniel Tiger? Will you make me a mayonnaise sandwich? Who would win in a fight? The Rock or Daddy? Why does your breath stink?
By ten that morning, I forgot all about my challenge. When the next two days came and went, there was still no hygge to show for it.
I had been looking forward to spending lazy days with my family. I planned on reading and playing board games. I was going to cook with my kids, and they were going to tell me all their secrets. Who they had crushes on and which parent they loved more. They would divulge their deepest fears. I was going to teach them life lessons. They would hang on my every word. We would laugh and cry. It was the weekend that would change our relationship forever and never be forgotten. We would later refer to it as “the weekend.”
Okay, so maybe I didn’t think it through. I hadn’t planned anything and thought that hygge would happen organically.
I was back at square one. How is this concept going to work for me?
I pulled up the notes I had taken when I first started to research hygge. As I read through them, one word stood out. Presence. Be present. Appreciate the present. Practice presence.
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”
If having a hygge mindset is about enjoying the present, then I have been doing it all along. I may not be able to keep candles lit in this house. I may not be able to sit by myself for longer than five minutes before I become a jungle gym or am needed to wipe a butt or make someone a sandwich but I have been grabbing at pieces of hygge for years.
Every time I read a book and am within kissing range of a little, sweaty head, I feel hygge. I feel hygge when I hear maniacal laughter and happy conversations between kids who usually bicker.
I feel hygge at bedtime. Another day has passed where everyone made it out alive. We are all warm and safe in our beds. My husband and I can have an uninterrupted conversation. We might even lay next to one another and read, our feet intertwined.
I even feel hygge in the mornings when one of my kids comes into my bed and interrupts my alone time. How can I not feel that way, knowing that the minute they awaken, they seek their mother’s comfort? I am that comfort. I am, in that moment, three children’s hygge.
We can all agree that hygge is a lovely concept. We would all love to live in our own hygge bubble. As for me, I will try to remain present and will work on the rest a little down the road.
J. Benson lives with her husband, three kids, and dog. Since 2007, she has been a maid, chauffeur, referee, chef, and household manager for her family. J. dabbles in everything creative yet masters nothing but sarcasm. Her hobbies include eating, adventuring, reading, and laughing so hard she can’t breathe.