Highly Sensitive Refuge
flowers and a candle representing hygge

4 Ways Embracing Hygge All Year Round Has Changed My Life

It was November 2017, a time of great upheaval and one of the lowest points of my life. Unlike other times when I had reached out to a therapist to help me control life’s challenges, this time the external circumstances were pretty much out of my hands.

As a highly sensitive, self-doubting individual with crippling social anxiety, I remember how difficult the job interview had been. With the office manager and my two future employers towering over me from the adjacent desk, I had to promote my creative abilities to enhance the company’s communications strategy.

But after three years working there, my employers decided to shutter the doors, and I was out of a job. I felt as though the personal growth I’d undergone had been stripped away.

On top of losing my job and my self-confidence, the holiday season was in full swing — crowded stores, festivities and parties, dreadful mingling, and the impending blustery winter months.

Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, as I moved to the next stage of unnecessary self-blame and isolation, a former coworker asked to meet for lunch. It was then, over Szechuan shrimp and egg rolls, that she introduced me to the Danish concept of hygge.

I can tell you, quite literally, that it changed my life.

A diagram of the Hygge Manifesto by Meik Wiking, showing the ten ways to achieve hygge: atmosphere, presence, pleasure, equality, gratitude, harmony, comfort, truce, togetherness, and shelter.
The Hygge Manifesto by Meik Wiking

What Is Hygge?

Pronounced hue-guh or hoo-gah, hygge isn’t so much a lifestyle as it is a feeling of contentment that’s engendered by coziness and simple pleasures. Those simple pleasures can be anything from spending quiet time in a reading nook, to having a glass of wine with a friend by candlelight, or eating a delicious piece of crumb cake in a corner at your favorite bakery.

I started my hygge journey with The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark — a.k.a. what I imagine to be the greatest job in the entire world.

The essence of Wiking’s “hygge manifesto” is creating the right atmosphere, comfort, togetherness, and presence, amongst other things, to lead a happier and more fulfilled life. According to Wiking, this can be cultivated at least 10 different ways:

  1. Atmosphere, especially a cozy, soft-lit atmosphere
  2. Presence, achieved by minimizing distractions (turn off your phone!)
  3. Pleasure — in the form of small pleasures like a cookie and cup of tea
  4. Equality, especially sharing (both chores and pleasures or attention)
  5. Gratitude for what you currently have
  6. Harmony, achieved by avoiding bragging or competing
  7. Comfort in the form of regular breaks or taking time to enjoy things
  8. Truce. This basically means letting politics, arguments, and other divisive topics rest.
  9. Togetherness with a focus on building stronger relationships.
  10. Shelter — not just physical places of peace, but taking shelter in the company of the people who make you feel welcome and safe

It’s about savoring the present moment and finding comfort and ease with your loved ones, your hobbies, your belongings, and your surroundings.

I grasped hygge immediately — frankly, I feel I mastered the art of coziness a long time ago — and found that for a highly sensitive person (HSP), it’s the best self-care regimen I’ve ever given myself. So, here’s how embracing hygge all year round has changed me (and how it can change your life, too).

4 Ways Hygge Has Changed My Life

1. Hygge gives me ample time to recharge.

Whether it’s simply acting as a caretaker and advisor for everyone around us, work stress, home stress, or just the complexities of our own minds, life can be hard for us highly sensitive people.

However, creating a soothing atmosphere, ridding oneself of meaningless clutter, and giving yourself permission to decompress is at the core of hygge.

The idea is to make your space calm and peaceful, or hyggeligt. Decorating with neutral hues, relaxing your senses with pleasing scents, easy lighting, and a cup of tea; or perhaps including a few houseplants all contribute to a warm and safe environment.

Incorporating these simple hygge elements have greatly reduced my anxiety levels and enabled me to be more present. Unplugging for an hour or two and relishing in my own kind of quiet re-energizes my soul and makes me feel great, emotionally and physically.

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2. Hygge allows me to have social interactions on a smaller, calmer scale.

A large group of coworkers are gathering at a popular restaurant on a Saturday night? I’ll pass.

Invited to a big birthday bash or a friend’s over-the-top wedding? I’ll send a gift in the mail.

One misconception I’ve heard others say about highly sensitive people is that we can’t handle fun, or even that we don’t like being around people. The truth is, we just get overstimulated easily if things are too big, too loud, or too busy. For me personally, although I love my alone time, I don’t like being lonely.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been extremely shy around people — sometimes even those I know and care about deeply. My tendency to tire easily and isolate myself from events and happenings have led me to feeling different, judged, or as though I were missing out on all the fun.

It’s not that I don’t want friends or relationships. It’s just that I often feel afraid and uncomfortable putting myself out there.

People have referred to hygge as “socializing for quiet people,” so it’s only fitting that it would help highly sensitive people with building the social connections they crave and making lifelong memories — without the overstimulation.

For example, hygge promotes small gatherings with family and friends over large, overwhelming get-togethers. Perhaps it’s meeting two or three people at a cozy café, or inviting a small handful of your closest buds over for a potluck dinner and card game. Maybe it’s an afternoon picnic at the park.

Cultivating hygge has made it much easier for me to enjoy calmer gatherings or outings with a few friends at a time, build deeper bonds, and become more involved in the world.

3. Hygge gets me through difficult seasons all year round.

Hygge is often associated with winter months when the temperatures are below freezing, the days are shorter, and it’s easier to sink into an emotional low.

However, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real and painful for a lot of people, and it doesn’t just occur during the winter season. For some, the transition to spring and summer is just as challenging.

I, for one, have struggled with just about all seasons. But thankfully, hygge can be embraced all year round.

Whereas vanilla scented candles, creamy comfort foods, thermal socks, and curling up with a knit blanket are more of a January pastime, you may be more inclined to welcome the sunnier days ahead with some spring cleaning and natural light.

Save cinnamon and clove for winter and whip out citrus and floral scents in the spring and summer. Visit a produce stand for locally-grown fruits and vegetables and invite a couple of friends over for a backyard lunch. Grow a garden.

As an avid reader, I even move my “book nook” outdoors to the patio.

As a highly sensitive person, I have found that my comfort needs are never-ending. But with hygge, I have been able to move forward with the seasons and have learned to enjoy special moments associated with each of them.

4. Hygge helps me organize my thoughts, reflect on my life, and refocus my attention.

Like many highly sensitive people, I do a lot of worrying and overthinking — which is part of how we process things so deeply. Often, this ruminating is about what I want to do with my life and career, and if I’ll ever conquer my dreams. This leads to being overstimulated by my own inner thoughts, and having even greater emotional sensitivities.

When I’m most relaxed, however, I think clearer. Hygge has decreased my anxiety and allowed me more time to reflect on the things that bring me the most joy. In a sense, it’s allowed for greater meditative moments.

I love writing, so I blog. I enjoy academia, so I am seeking employment at a college. I unplug when I need to so I can accomplish more and become more present in everyday life.

I have become aware of my own feelings, for example, of when I’ve reached my limits of how much stimulation I can take or when I need to take a break and recharge. And when I do recharge, I make sure I have all the elements (my simple pleasures) to do so at my fingertips: a novel, my dog, and a cozy spot that’s my own.

Most importantly, hygge has helped me accept myself for the way I am — for better or for worse.

Hygge is something we all innately possess, so it’s possible that you, as the reader, have already created a hyggeligt space for yourself, or choose to partake in small gatherings with close friends in lieu of chaotic, bustling functions.

While I still struggle with social anxiety and the challenges of being highly sensitive, embracing hygge and altering how I use it throughout the year depending on the season has helped me build a greater awareness of self and recreate joyful memories and cherished moments. Just because I have a sensitive nervous system doesn’t mean I don’t want to be happy or have fun — and that, I’ve realized, I do have control over.

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A version of this post originally appeared at our sister site, Introvert, Dear.

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