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what is hygge

What is Hygge? The Key To A Sober Holiday

What is Hygge? The Key To A Sober Holiday

Hygge—roughly pronounced “HUE-guh”—is a Danish word that has been adopted into the English language because no English word properly captures the concept. The closest equivalent is “coziness,” but hygge also implies self-pampering, companionship, soft light, good food, simplicity, and freedom from concern.

It also implies an outside backdrop of cold and darkness—of which Denmark has plenty during the long Scandinavian winter. Even if you live where the temperature rarely gets below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the shortest day of the year has 10.5 hours of sunlight, there are bound to be days of gloom and chill—plus times you feel that way even on the brightest-blue sunny days. Especially if you’re in addiction recovery and facing a holiday season without your old methods of “celebration,” with the fear of relapse vs. the fear of lasting misery engaging in a violent tug-of-war for control of your gut.

You can learn from the Danes, who have a reputation for being consistently cheerful thanks largely to hygge. Try these tips for a happy and sober holiday season.

Pamper Yourself

Contrary to popular rumor, it’s not selfish to take a break from meeting others’ needs or to do something simply because you enjoy it. And contrary to popular opinion, you don’t literally “need a drink” to relax—in fact, talking like that usually means someone already has a foot across the line between enjoying a glass of wine for its own sake and becoming dangerously dependent on it.

Try these chemical-free methods of self-pampering. (Pick the ones you like best—this is about respecting yourself as well as enjoying yourself.)

  • Sleep late.
  • Soak in a hot bath.
  • Inhale your favorite aroma.
  • Listen to your favorite music.
  • Curl up with some funny or inspirational reading, or a good volume of poetry.
  • Take a long outdoor walk.
  • Watch the sunrise or sunset—or the moon and stars.
  • Spend time with your favorite animal companion. (Note to cat people: there’s scientific evidence that a feline purr is a form of “healing”)

Share Time with Friends

Good human company—not big crowds, but smaller, more intimate circles—is another hygge essential. Why not skip the big office party or neighborhood open house, and invite your closest friends over for a light meal, a board-game or crafts night, a sing-along, or just an evening of chit-chat? Choose no more than a dozen people who support your sobriety journey and with whom you feel safe sharing your hopes and dreams, your plans for next year, even your deep secrets. Make it clear that conversation is to center on pleasant things. (You might put a coat rack outside with a sign saying, “Please hang your gripes and worries here until you leave the gathering.”)

Let the Outside World Alone

While you’re at it, take your landline off the hook, and ask your guests to turn off their personal phones. Don’t be surprised if you meet—or feel—an aghast “But I might miss something important!!!” reaction. Many people seem convinced that their survival depends on receiving news updates 24/7: they keep their home televisions on whether or not they’re watching, accept CNN broadcasts as normal ambience in public, leave their email boxes open to interrupt their work every five minutes, and nearly faint at the thought of leaving their smartphones at home.

If you truly value the spirit of hygge (and the sobriety value of keeping stress down), be willing to leave the larger world and its worries for a while. Besides your phone, turn off all other “screens” and enjoy your own little cocoon of coziness for a few hours, alone or with friends.

Light up Your Life

Since hygge is traditionally associated with the dead of winter, light, as well as warmth, is a standard part of the ambiance. Not the room-filling glare of a 100-watt overhead bulb, but the light that enhances a sense of coziness: decorative area lamps or chandeliers; candles; a fire in the fireplace. There are also electric fixtures that imitate the movements and warmth of the natural fire.

Add aromatherapy to the light with scented candles, incense, or an essential oil diffuser.

Eat Well

“Eat well” doesn’t necessarily mean “eat super-healthy” in the no-fattening-foods-allowed sense—you need more calories in cold weather anyway. The traditional hygge fare is rich, hot, flavorful, homemade, often slow-cooking to give its aroma time to fill the house with anticipation—and it’s not too fancy or effortful to make. Try any version of these classic Scandinavian-themed favorites (recipes are easy to find online):

  • Meat stew
  • Meatballs
  • Pasta
  • Cream-of-anything soup
  • Cinnamon rolls
  • Fruit-filled pastries
  • Just about anything with chocolate

—plus “mocktail toddies” and other nonalcoholic hot drinks. (Heated apple juice with a cinnamon stick is a favorite in my family.)

Keep Everything Simple

One factor common to all the above—and to hygge in general, and to sobriety as a lifestyle—is simplicity. No trying to stuff every possible option into a hectic holiday schedule. No stressing about getting everything perfect. No hanging your entire sense of self-worth on whether the results of your work are flawless or meet with everyone else’s approval. Just taking time to savor life on a small scale, enjoying it the way you like it, knowing that your real friends love you anyway and that you’re saving more of your best self to share with them.

In the interest of carrying hygge simplicity into the new year (you may need it all the more once the holidays are over but winter isn’t), here are a few “complications” you can resolve to remove from your life starting now:

  • Chronically negative and critical people (even if they’re your own relatives or friends-since-childhood)
  • Automatically saying “yes” to every request
  • Sense of obligation to finish a third-rate TV show, book, food helping, or project just because you started it
  • Checking and double-checking to make sure nothing is overlooked
  • The idea that your personal value is determined by how consistently “thorough” you are

Learn to love yourself for yourself, your work for its own sake, and life’s simple pleasures for their own sake. When that happens, you catch the spirit of true happiness and have no need for chemical “happiness” that only makes you more miserable in the long run.

Have a happy hygge-filled holiday season!

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