We humans use millions of words to name, explain and define all elements of life. As much as we like the ideas of awe, wonder and mystery, we don’t really give them much space to just “be.” It never takes long before we nail down a definition and explain away any ambiguity and uncertainty. We don’t actually like those things.
In a culture where knowledge is power, we are not content with mystery. We want to know how and why. We want to know the weaknesses and limitations – and if there are none, well that’s just not acceptable. As I have taken an interest in hygge, and taken notes from the Danes who are arguably the happiest people on Earth, I find myself wanting to make hygge into something I can execute in my own life. As if there is some equation I’m trying to solve for “x” and find what element will fill the gap for all of my happiness problems. I want it to be quantitative.
It turns out, all of the candles, blankets, pastries, hot drinks and cool people in the whole wide world do not equate to happiness. These things, as a part of hygge, are simply about creating the space. Within that space, the warmth, comfort and close friendships help to create a feeling of belonging deep within our bones. If we don’t make an effort to pause and notice the feeling in that very moment, we’re missing it.
This genuine feeling cannot be perfectly defined and it has no limitations, no weaknesses. Because when it is present, it is infinite within the moment in which it exists – it knows no boundaries yet fits perfectly into that particular space in time. It is not something that we can make, only something we can make room for. It is our connectedness to each other, to the world and to the Divine. It is our sense of belonging. When we perceive that it ends, it is not due the limitations of the phenomenon, it is the limitation of our humanness. I would argue that it is still there and available at all times, its just a matter if we’ve made space for it and also decided to be present in that space.
I recently joined the rest of the entire world’s obsession with Brene Brown. Currently, I’m in that super healthy binge phase, cramming every Ted Talk, interview, article and every book she’s ever written, ever, in to my brain as quickly as possible. I get it now. Her new book Braving the Wilderness has completely rocked my world.
Early in the book, Brene quotes Maya Angelou:
“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”
I have read this quote approximately 3,056 times, trying to wrap my brain around what it means and how I can measure it and apply it (because that’s what us humans do). It sounds super wisdom-y and I need it in my life. We all crave a sense of belonging – of connectedness. The problem is, we often build our foundation for belonging first on connectedness with people or groups of people (i.e. the church, professional groups, the acceptance of a mentor, friend groups, mom’s clubs, sports teams, political affiliations). If there is one thing we know about people, it is that we are ever evolving, complicated and flawed. Every. Single. One of us. Even when our basis of belonging is built on people we perceive as true and genuinely good, it will eventually crumble. Life happens, we disappoint, we change, we ask questions and God-willing, we grow. When these things happen among groups of people that have based their core sense of belonging on each other first, it shakes and sometimes even crumbles the very foundation they stand on.
So, where does that leave us? I believe this is totally relevant to hygge and what the Danes have such a hard time explaining. The elements that are essential to hygge (fire, light, comfort food, warm drinks, good books, close friends), help create the safe space for vulnerability and set the stage for a different kind of belonging.
It starts with belonging to ourselves first, finding our feet planted firmly on the ground in what we know in our own hearts to be true and right, acknowledging our strengths, our imperfections and our places of deep shame. Then, finding the courage to live wholly from that place, knowing that we will absolutely not please everyone, and that’s ok (this is what Brene refers to as living in the “wilderness,” and it is super, super hard). Hygge gives us a safe, sacred space, where the price we pay for living in the wilderness is worth it. With this space comes a true sense of connectedness both to ourselves and to the few close friends who will not only meet us in the wilderness, but will brave it with us. It is where we belong, and it is where we are free. It is the space that is filled with both the solitude we need to remain grounded, as well as the people that not only accept our places of vulnerability and shame, but embrace us and actually love us more because of them.
In my opinion, there is no word to define this sense of simultaneous grounded belonging, solitude and connectedness. Hygge is the space we can create within the wilderness, but the actual feeling and experience that a can happen when we are present there is a thing of awe – of mystery and wonder – and a truly amazing gift. It just, is…and that’s enough for me.
So friends, I encourage you as you read through other blog posts on this site, don’t just use the advice to create the space…actually take time to BE in the space you create. Be it alone, with friends or with the family dog. Amazing things happen there.