I want you to take a moment to contemplate this question.
What does ‘togetherness’ mean to you as a family?
What images first come to mind? Was it when you were all snuggled up on the sofa watching a movie on a Saturday night? Was it breastfeeding your baby in the peaceful wee hours? Was it your last holiday in the snow, building a snowman with the kids?
When was the last time you experienced this feeling of togetherness as a family, and how often do you get that associated warm, fuzzy feeling?
There’s probably a good chance that it’s not a regular occurrence. Well, family life is busy. Really busy. Sometimes we’re essentially in survival mode, and need to just get through the day.
And for those with school-aged kids, it’s easy to get caught up on the day-to-day treadmill: the school runs, making school lunches and dinners, after-school activities and homework, weekend classes and birthday parties. There never seems to be any spare time for anything else. It’s overwhelming at times, right?
Or, your situation might be similar to my own. I’m heavily pregnant, and have an active and strong-willed three year-old at home. We’re together seven days a week but I wouldn’t necessarily consider every moment a special time of ‘togetherness’. Often I just dream of ‘aloneness’. I’m sure I’m not a unique parent who longs for that, and that’s totally fine. We’re only human.
Somehow, though, in this fast-paced, overscheduled, consumerist, and digital world that we live in, we seem to have forgotten how to just slow down, relax, and enjoy one another without external distractions. It’s time to be intentional about reversing that.
In this article, we’re going to explore the Danish philosophy called ‘Hygge’ (pronounced ‘hoo-gah’). Although not new in Denmark, it’s the latest wellness trend sweeping the rest of the world, and literally means ‘to cozy around together’.
Doesn’t that sound like a charming notion that we could all get a little more of? It doesn’t sound too hard. The idea focuses on creating a cozy atmosphere at home, such as lighting candles, and doing things together like playing games, having cake and tea, and doing crafts.
And the holiday season is the perfect time of year to Hygge since it’s generally a time celebrated with family and friends. The ultimate aim is to spend time together, leaving problems, technology, and negativity behind and simply having fun as a family.
So, how do we start getting a little Hygge into our lives this holiday season?
Here are some ideas to get started, and to slowly start implementing a little togetherness into your holidays.
The Basis of Hygge
Hygge isn’t just an act, it’s a way of life. A time to forget about personal problems, to get connected with one another, to slow down and be present, to laugh, and have fun.
According to the World Happiness Report by the United Nations, Denmark frequently tops the polls as the happiest nation in the world. It ranks highly on all the key factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.
Happiness expert Meik Wiking, author of The Little Book of Hygge, believes that Hygge is central to that happiness. Through his research, he has found that happiness is down to our social relationships. Danes believe that interacting, supporting, and helping others gives meaning and purpose to their lives. Without it, none of us can be truly happy as an individual.
Picture what Hygge Could Look Like for Your Family
Do you think it would be easy to incorporate Hygge into your life? It will probably take some practice for a lot of us parents. Most of us are accustomed to regularly looking at our phones, checking emails or social media, working constantly or being constantly entertained, and taking pride in our busy-ness.
We talk about getting me time, and about teaching our kids independence and self-reliance. Culturally speaking, we generally celebrate the “I” and think individualistically.
Of course it’s healthy to get some vital time to ourselves to recharge the batteries, but wouldn’t it be nice if we thought more collectively, and rewarded our kids not only for winning something on their own, but also the times when they help and support one another as a group? What better time to start doing this than the holidays?
I can guarantee that kids know how to do Hygge, particularly the younger ones who are yet to learn about the concept of time, and rushing around from A to B. We can watch and learn from them when we start to practice it.
Take the Hygge Oath
The authors of The Danish Way of Parenting recommend that we make a family pact to spend some special time together. It doesn’t have to be much to begin with. You could think about it as starting lovely little family traditions, so discuss what they could be.
For instance, every Friday at 5pm, my son and I have ‘party time’, and we both look forward to it all week. Hygge, as it turns out, is also about enjoying decadent food and drink, which is almost an antithesis to the clean eating wellness trend. So, each Friday we put some (grown-up) music on, eat things I wouldn’t normally allow, like potato chips, and I’ll have a glass of wine or two (pre-pregnancy of course. Now it’s sparkling water!).
We either cuddle up on the sofa and chat, or dance and act silly. I put my phone away, the TV is off, but equally if he wants to play, I only observe. It’s whatever helps us both unwind after a busy week.
This time of togetherness continues when my husband gets home. He usually brings dinner with him, and we enjoy it all together on the sofa. This is the only time we don’t eat at the table, so it makes it that much more of a special treat.
It’s almost like having a bit of time at the end of the week when all the ‘rules’ are out the window, and we just relax in each other’s company, and stay up a little bit later than usual.
Come holidays, we hope to extend this custom by listening to some Christmas music while we make ornaments and add them to the tree. And have dinner of warm soups and stews eaten on big floor cushions huddled around the candlelit coffee table. Festive pajamas would add a nice touch! Following dinner, I hope to indulge in a little homemade chocolate as we look through photos of past Christmases and reminisce about all the happy times.
A few other Hygge ideas to try during the holidays could be:
- A screen-free zone or time where all grownups (hosts and guests alike) put their phones away and the TV remote stays untouched.
- All the kids in the family (and maybe adults too!) produce a “show” to watch after the family meal.
- A contest of some sort – anything from scrabble to charades to family joke-off is game.
- Baking and decorating cut-out cookies together. No need for perfection here, and spoon licking is recommended. Embrace the mess but ensure the clean-up is a group effort, too.
- Get everyone involved in the holiday card-making instead of buying them. Simply laying out all of the craft supplies, and making it unstructured takes away any pressure and gets the creative juices flowing.
Understand and Discuss the Benefits
Viewing the family as a team fosters a deep sense of belonging and well-being. Encouraging our children to help others, to be empathetic, to be humble and to be great team players will benefit them into adulthood, and as a member of society as a whole.
Leaving negativity, drama, and complaining at the door when you Hygge as a family makes it a pleasant experience, and one that our children can pass on to their children.
And it’s good for our health, too. From the pooled data of 148 studies on health outcomes and their correlation to social relationships, it’s easy to see why Denmark is such a happy nation. We release the feel-good hormone, oxytocin, in these moments of Hygge, which lowers our stress levels and increases our feelings of trust and bonding.
Strong social ties were shown in numerous studies in this research to result in living a longer life, and having a stronger immune system. Sharing our emotions and problems with others seems to make us more resilient.
Be in the Moment
Removing all devices and distractions, and just being is a rare activity these days. Maybe that’s why I find wrapping presents so therapeutic — it’s a time to just be in the moment.
Often, even when we’re with family, we’re thinking about our never-ending to-do list, what we’re going to do for the rest of the holidays, or what someone said to us earlier.
Practicing mindfulness, or being present, isn’t easy at first. We might get restless and bored, but that’s normal. It takes time to change an ingrained habit.
Kids however are great at it. Remember how long the holidays would seem to last when we were young? Being in the moment can just make time seem to stand still.
We shouldn’t want to rush our lives away. Putting a load of blankets and cushions on the floor and playing a board or card game together, or getting out and braving the cold to go on a nature walk are great activities to practice being in the moment. Create salt dough ornaments, paper or popcorn chains, or paint each other’s nails in festive colours.
Something else you could do together is read books. Read to your little ones, or ask your older children to read to you. Don’t forget, you can simply (yet mindfully) eat and drink and chat. I think we can all do that.
Make it Cozy
Denmark has longer, darker, and colder winters than other parts of the world, and their biggest time to practice Hygge is during the holiday season. It makes sense that they would light candles and create a warm, cozy atmosphere in the home.
I think that even in places that don’t get quite as cold during winter, for most of us, we still like to recreate a similar welcoming space in the home, with festive decorations, hearty comfort food, and pleasant music.
Think of all the beautiful aromas we love at this time: the pine of the Christmas tree, gingerbread and all of the other spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, freshly baked cookies, hot cocoa, pot roasts, cranberry sauce, mulled wine, and eggnog.
Even if we don’t get snow, we like to give the illusion that it’s really cold outside, which in turn makes it super cozy indoors. We decorate with snowmen, snowflakes, and even put fake snow on our windows and hang lights that look like icicles.
Yes, there’s definitely something very Hygge about this time of year. So make the most of it, and cozy together with family and friends!
Have Fun Together and Get Connected
Keep it jovial, pleasurable, and light.
Don’t be afraid to be silly, play games, make a fort together, play Scrabble, or do a craft. Take up knitting, or paint a large canvas together. Think of something you loved doing as a child, or find a new hobby to learn together.
You might be surprised how much you enjoy yourself, switch off from all of your problems, and reset your mind.
Every Saturday morning, the three of us have breakfast in bed. Needless to say it gets messy, and Saturday has become the day we wash the bedding, but we enjoy how cozy and close we feel. Because our sheets are white, my son likes to call it an ice cave and imagine that he’s sheltering from a snow storm. The bed becomes a cave for my son to hide in. My husband is a polar bear, who my son has to hide from. We all laugh and have a fabulous time.
It’s a wonderfully slow way to start a weekend. We don’t schedule our free time or do classes, and whatever we do plan is based around enjoyment, eating and drinking, not hurrying anywhere, and catching up with friends and family.
Take a Break from Negativity and Complaining
We often surround ourselves in negativity and complaining more than we realise, and our children can start to mirror this behaviour.
Holidays in particular seem rife with opportunities for drama, conflict, negativity and complaints. We have such good intentions, but we often approach the holidays with high expectations, long to-do lists, often a lot of travel to visit family, as well as anxiety about the cost of it all.
And unknowingly that creeps into the way we end up spending the holidays.
I remember one particular bad day I had recently which involved my son and me rushing around in the busy city centre in the pouring rain. We were trying to get some shopping done, and we all know how fun that can be when you have a long list to get through.
I couldn’t find what I liked, so we trudged back home, getting soaked, and then the brake on the stroller got jammed so I had to push it while it was still on, which required an immense strength. It made a terrible, loud noise. And did I mention I am pregnant? I felt exhausted, defeated, and nauseous.
I complained to my son, “Oh, what a day it’s been!” He smiled and exclaimed, “Yes, it’s been a fun day in the rain!”
He didn’t see any of it the way I had!
I had to smile, it’s all about mindset and how we perceive life.
So, as we practice Hygge, for just a little while, let’s focus on leaving everything else behind and think like a child.
Get Friends and Other Family Members Involved
Holidays should be a time for Hygge. Instead it’s often stressful, and a lot of the work is left to one person. Why don’t we try something different this year?
Work as a team!
Ask everyone what they would like to contribute to the day. Preparing a meal for the family can be part of spending time together. The kitchen is the heart of the house, so give everyone a little task, and enjoy a glass of champagne and a laugh together while you cook.
The kids could be making holiday decorations, gifts, or doing crafts together. Encourage the older kids to play with the younger ones, organise team building activities such as a scavenger hunt. It’s tempting to put a movie on when there are extra children around to get some peace and quiet, but try to give them some time to play, share, and cooperate first. Let kids be kids.
You could also sing holiday songs together, or ask the kids to put on a concert. Danes feel that singing is an important part of creating Hygge, and believe that it creates a strong feeling of connectedness. Once you get past feeling a little silly, you might be surprised at how happy it makes you feel.
For New Mums
When we experience sleep deprivation, mummy guilt about the tiniest things, the stress of adjusting to a new role, and our body healing after the birth, often the last thing we want is visitors.
However, the more support we receive, the happier, healthier, and more secure both the mother and baby will be.
I’m not talking about people coming around and you having to play host, though. Friends and family who bring nourishing food, who tidy up, who hold your baby so you can take a shower are the people you need to surround yourself with.
I’m actually due with my second baby three days before Christmas, so I am determined to have at least a month of Hygge during this wonderful time of year. I know that with my first child I wanted for some reason to prove that I could do it all on my own. Isn’t it ridiculous that some of us feel like a failure if we ask for help?
I got to four weeks and completely broke down. I couldn’t do it alone, I needed help, but I still refused to ask for it.
My husband very kindly sent out an SOS to my mom. My mother had no idea I wasn’t coping, and she immediately booked an apartment for two weeks to stay nearby and to come every day to help me with all the little things.
I needed her to talk to about my breastfeeding challenges, and she listened and offered caring support. She cooked for me, and made sure I always drank plenty of water — two things that I was struggling to achieve beforehand. She came with me to appointments, and held my baby while I took a nap or went and got a haircut.
I started to feel human again.
At six weeks, I became a member of a mothers’ group. Looking back three years later, I don’t think I could have got through that first year without the ongoing support of the other moms. We leaned on one another. We talked about our issues every week, listened, cried, empathised, and showed compassion without an ounce of judgement. We were going through it together, and even now we regularly get together for a coffee and a chat. We all formed such a strong bond early on, and have created the kind of friendships that usually take years to form.
So, that’s how you practice Hygge. I hope that’s taken away a little bit of the mystery from the latest buzz word. After reading this, why wouldn’t you want to try a little Hygge these holidays? What have you got to lose?
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
For our quick-action today, quickly think through some of these simple questions –
- What is your idea of “togetherness”?
- Could you incorporate a little more of it into your lives?
- What would stop you from spending more cozy time together?
- What could you do more of to make time for Hygge these holidays?
- Which tip could you try today?
I would suggest picking up at least one new aspect of Hygge to try and/or one old habit to let go of, and focus on this holiday season. It may work for you, it may not. But unless you try, you’ll never know!
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
For this week, take note of little moments of Hygge. They don’t have to be lengthy, scheduled-in sessions. Sometimes they just happen, like when your children come into bed for a snuggle in the morning.
Think about how those cozy moments make you feel, how your kids appear to feel, and be mindful of these little pleasures. Write them down, and do it again tomorrow if you can. And start planning how you can have more of it during the holidays.
Important note: It’s not all going to be holding hands and singing Kumbaya. We’re all used to living hectic lives, to being connected to technology, to having a bad day and wanting to share it (i.e., complain about it), or to simply wanting to be left alone.
We can’t expect to change our lifestyles, even for the better, overnight. And that’s why holidays, where togetherness and coziness are inherently a part of the expectations, is a great time to incorporate some intentional Hygge. Simply try to commit to spending some special time with your family these holidays. It will be totally worth it.