During the last few weeks, the everlasting chore of wearying news manages to bring around an aura of despair that we all feel. This last week alone has brought the unthinkable news of Brett Kavanaugh being nominated to the Supreme Court fresh from a sexual assault inquiry, the tragedy of 20 people dying in a New York limousine crash and a climbing death toll in the Indonesian tsunami disaster. In these times of depressing news cycles, it’s difficult to relax and feel at ease in our surroundings – there is an imminent feeling of something worse to come around the corner. Emerging studies have shown the negative effects of bad news stories on our mental health, even if the news itself doesn’t affect us directly. Many of us feel the need to vent, to argue; anything to relieve the weight of the terrible news we are continuously fed. Or, as they do in the Nordic countries – have a hot chocolate and take up knitting.
‘Hygge’, shortlisted for Oxford’s word of the year in 2016, is roughly translated as ‘cosy’ in English, and means to be cosy, happy and filled with comfort and intimacy. It is central to Danish culture, and includes things that make you feel cosy and warm inside, like making dinner with friends, putting on a pair of slippers, sitting in front of a fireplace or just making a cup of tea – it doesn’t matter so much as to what the activity is, rather the ‘hyggelig’ feeling that comes along with it. Usually partaken during the freezing, 6-month-long winters in Scandinavia, it is meant to invoke a sense of cosiness and comfort during the dark, harsh seasons that would otherwise shroud us in misery and cold. The word exploded onto the scene in 2016, and since then countless books have been published on the topic, both within Scandinavia and abroad.
There is a need for the enjoyment of simple, heartwarming activities in the current political climate in which we are all despairing. It has become too easy to submerge ourselves in bad news and forget about the small joys in life – and if you think I’m being cheesy or infantile, let it be known that the Danish are the happiest nation on earth, becoming so by making their living spaces cozy and clean, turning off their screens for large chunks of the day, and getting outside more. A Danish classmate once informed me that she puts tea towels over her laptop screen when she’s not looking at it and never goes into her bedroom in her jeans – it’s solely pyjama territory. These small things that make life more bearable, if done in the right amount, can distract us from the ever-worsening news cycle that exposes itself to us so tirelessly. The practice of hygge can invoke a sense of calm and peace in a stressful situation, and creates healthy living spaces which in turn relieves anxiety in the long run.
Having just had World Mental Health Day, it is critical to encourage those who are unhappy to talk to others, to change a possibly unhealthy routine, and to practice small yet positive changes within their lives. Whatever it may be, these small things which bring a small sense of joy to an otherwise mundane day can help improve our minds and happiness eventually. With the notion of self care regularly in our social media spheres and the media, we can take this notion from hygge itself – and start with the small things to make this constant slog of political strife just that little more bearable.