Hygge in the workplace

You may or may not be aware of the ‘Hygge movement’ that is happening globally at the moment. I’ve been asked to speak on this on a number of separate occasions over the last few months, so it seems it is a topic of some interest to many people out there, and it has particular relevant to workplace wellbeing. So here are the top 10 questions people have asked me about Hygge:

Firstly, what is Hygge?

Hygge is a Danish word which most closely translates to ‘cosy’. It has been defined as ‘the appreciation of cosiness and the nice things in life’. The Danish love their cosiness!

In the space of mental health and wellbeing, Hygge offers yet another way in which people can take care of themselves and their wellbeing – whether or not they have been diagnosed with a mental health problem or not. A hygge lifestyle is a lifestyle that is aware of your own wellbeing and how you are relating to life in general.

Why do you think hygge has become popular now?

As a society we’ve never had it so good financially and materially, so we are looking more at the existential questions of happiness, fulfillment and wellbeing, as opposed to mere survival.

Our world is going through very exciting times. It also means that the rate of change we are seeing is, in many ways, unprecedented. As people, we have a desire for both excitement and security/safety. We want enough change to make things interesting, but too much change will make us feel unsafe. If we add to change the constant flood of information we are subjected to, it’s no wonder people are looking for some reprieve. I think Hygge is one method of many that can provide people with the comfort of slowing things down a little.

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So how does Hygge help mental health and wellbeing? What’s the research?

Anything that helps busy, stressed, overworked or overwhelmed people slow down and take note of what’s nice & cosy in their lives can have a powerfully healthy and positive effect in people’s lives. While I’m not aware of any direct studies on Hygge it’s important to remember that Hygge has elements of well researched benefits like ‘slowing down and take note’. Or in other words it’s very similar, if not the same, as some of the core processes of mindfulness, and that has been shown in research to be extremely beneficial and have antidepressant effects. And ‘appreciating the nice things in life’, or gratitude, has also been studied extensively within Positive Psychology, elements we cover in our Resilience course and found to have not just anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects, but also to build the neural pathways that make it harder to experience negativity and easier to experience positivity.

What innate human needs are people trying to address through the concept of hygge?

We have an innate need for comfort and protection. In the old experiments on baby monkeys (we wouldn’t do it nowadays), they took them away from their mothers and gave them two options – a metal, mechanical device that gave them food, or a metal mechanical device covered in soft cloth that gave them comfort but not food. The monkeys opted for comfort over food every time.

I believe Hygge helps people address their needs for closeness and love, and also for safety and certainty. But, it’s important to understand that Hygge is not the only tool that helps people do this.

In your experience how do people feel when they adopt a hygge approach to life?

All in all, the return to simplicity & connecting that Hygge encourages helps people get a greater enjoyment of life. It can have the effect of reconnecting people with life, connecting them with others, and making time for their relationships. It can help bring more joy to people’s lives and protect them from turning everyday pressures into stress. After all, we are social creatures. We need that connection in order to thrive.

These simple activities, like lighting candles, sitting by a fire, are things which can, and often do, slow down time for the person. It brings them into this time and space. That’s very useful for caring for your psychological health. If you do this exercise with a loved one, it can help reconnect with that person on a regular basis, thus creating a sense of closeness and love – very important and basic needs for us too!

What’s the most important thing to do/be aware of in making Hygge work for you?

Hygge is more an attitude, an approach to life that leads to appreciation of the little things and respecting your own way of doing things. In that sense, your Hygge will be very different to my Hygge, but that’s ok, as long as it’s leading me to really connect with the inner appreciation of the little things. So even though Hygge is an approach, a philosophy as such, the little practices you do every day are what is going to bring a deep inner shift and joy.

What are the barriers that people may face in adopting Hygge practices? How would these be overcome?

One of the challenges for people in our societies today is simplification. It’s a common pitfall for people to try to apply something as simple and natural as Hygge and make a To Do list out of it. The moment that you put Hygge as a to-do for your life, then it has the danger of becoming a source of tension instead of one of release and connection. Make sure you practice, but don’t turn Hygge into a ‘new belief system’ of sorts. Enjoy it. Have fun with it. But don’t become obsessed with it. That would not be Hygge.

In a workplace setting, how Hygge can be adopted?

Some ways workplaces can adopt Hygge are by paying attention to the physical environments they create, making them ‘human friendly’. Managers can be really useful here and take the lead. But, remember a ‘human friendly’ office will be determined by the people that are going to use it, not by the boss.

For example, I like nice clean, minimalist office spaces, with no distractions, but I have colleagues who love to decorate their working space, with pictures, poems, etc to really make it their own cosy space. So Hygge is partly finding what really works for each staff member to get that sense of peace and safety, and doing that.

Have desks for people that love desks but have relaxing couches or chairs for people that love working in a more ‘relaxed’ way. Make sure this is encouraged. Have natural light. Make sure people take breaks and move. Encourage small chit chat.

Another way is for managers to encourage their teams to recognise the small things they are grateful for each day in their workplace – whether it was that the coffee machine got fixed, or what a lovely walk they had into the office that day, or a smile and a pleasant conversation with a colleague. Too often our focus is always on ‘what’s next’, instead of appreciating the good at work, and enjoying the time spent there. After all, we do spend a lot of our lives at work. And the research is overwhelmingly clear that when we are comfortable and enjoying it we will produce more.

Are there any cons to the concept of hygge?

There are cons to everything. For example, if you use Hygge to escape from deep problems that need your attention, then that’s not a good use of Hygge. Hygge doesn’t fix things, it just helps you create some needed rest for you psyche so you can deal with the more important things after. If you don’t take your refreshed mental state and use it to come up with better ways to live life, then Hygge has been wasted.
Another thing to be cautious of is that sometimes in order to achieve something big, we need to stretch outside of our comfort zone. Living in all comfort is neither natural nor good for you. We need to stretch beyond our comfort. Think about this, possibly everything great you have in your life it is because you did something that was a little outside the comfort zone – whether it was going to the job interview for that great role, or asking your now wife out on a date. If we are not balanced in our approach we don’t achieve anything. But right now, I think we’re out of balance the other way. People are feeling over-stretched and a little hyggee brings it back into balance.

What is your response to critics who believe it’s a superficial concept that represses and ignores the dark stuff of life?

I think it’s a little harsh. Where good mental health is concerned, we need to have a time for everything. A time for focusing and addressing the dark stuff in life and a time to have a welcome break to recharge our batteries, as it were. I think Hygge, if it’s your thing, can help you do that. Of course, I’d invite you to look into more tools than just Hygge. In our Building Resilience At Work course, a course for workplaces, we teach workers and managers over 12 different powerful tools to help your psyche have a break and for people to get mastery over their emotional selves. A real smorgasbord of choice. Why so many? so you can chose what you want, according to your own liking and personality.

Author: Peter Diaz
Peter-Diaz-AuthorPeter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organisations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

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