Hygge and Health
I’ve just finished reading a book on Hygge, the Danish concept of happiness and living well. I loved it. It spoke to my soul in a way few things do.
You may be thinking, ‘why now? It was big a few years ago.’
Well that’s the point. When the fad has died down, the furore has calmed and every insta-twat has jumped off the bandwagon, it seems more genuine.
I like the idea of approaching a concept long after it’s fallen from favour and popular culture. It’s a way to pick through the remains of an idea and get to the core of the concept.
It’s really easy to dismiss Hygge as a middle-class fad. The latest fashion for the instagrammers to obsess about and take pretty pictures of, before they pass on to the next thing.
I think that’s a bit dismissive of hygge, though. Don’t let the tastemakers ruin what could be a worthwhile guiding light for life.
In this long (something of a feature of my ‘first post of the year’ being an essay) post, I’m going to attempt to crystallise my thoughts on the concept of hygge and how it relates to health, which is ultimately the focus of the blog.
I promise it won’t be one of those “I was in the cinema the other day, which is very much like fitness”… kind of posts, where a blogger tries to link two ideas with a very weak thread.
Hygge and Health
Some of you may know that I ‘theme’ my years. Think of each theme as a broader umbrella for what I’d like to focus on in the coming year. Previous years have been…
2013 – Finance. Buying a house was on the agenda. I wanted to get a grip of my money.
2014 – Learning. I wanted to learn new skills such as carpentry, brick laying, patio laying etc.
2015 – Simplicity. Have a quieter diary, more time with family and friends. Less weekends full of ‘stuff’.
2016 – Growth. Personal challenges – Tough Mudder, Fit for Life Retreat, join the Weight Lifting Club.
2017 – Development. I wanted to develop an online fitness business and develop my home office.
It’s a system that works for me – where I may miss on some of my new years resolutions, I always manage to achieve my broader aims. Looking back over that list, I’ve hit all of those targets.
So what’s the theme this year, and what does it have to do with hygge?
The theme for 2018 is ‘self‘. What does self mean?
To me, self means more control. More mastery over myself, my thoughts, my actions and my behaviours. There’s a clear link between self, hygge and health. Let me outline the broader ideas, before we get more granula on the details.
Controlling self means…
- Self motivation – I want to push myself more with my work and exercise.
- Self mastery – I want to exercise more control over cravings and poor food choices. Over my decisions and over sleep.
- Self satisfaction – I want to be better at making myself happy. I don’t want to outsource happiness to external entertainments such as TV.
- Self reliance – I work for myself and want to expand this. I also want to perform self-reliant tasks for myself, such as making things rather than buying them.
The good news is that this needn’t mean wholesale life changes. Simple examples could be….
- Going for family walks rather than watching TV. In my eyes, TV is a classic example of where we outsource entertainment and happiness. We rely on other people to entertain us.
- Food over phones. In an age where so much food is easily bought/microwaved, the idea of cooking being a time to be present is reduced. With a task such as cooking, you need to present and paying attention, reducing ‘screen time’.
- Outdoors over indoors. Being outdoors ticks a lot of boxes – it’s better for our mental and physical health. It’s a way to spend time as a family. It’s an ideal opportunity to be entertained. I want to spend more time outdoors this year.
The year of self was inspired by my reading of The Little Book of Hygge’ over the Christmas period.
If I can exercise more control over my ‘self’, then I earn a reward. I earn my hygge, so to speak.
Hygge and me.
My interest in hygge was first piqued after I listened to a podcast talking about the Danish concept of happiness and hygge in 2014.
It was around a time where my interest in learning new skills first arose. It fed my attraction to self-reliance as a lifestyle, where I started to make a few things rather than buy them, cook more and grow some of my own food.
I didn’t deep-dive on hygge, but my interest on it was expanded by reading articles and listening to podcasts related to the subject.
It has never been an obsession, nor will it ever be. However, reading this book has been a real pleasure over the Christmas period and has made me think that hygge is a pretty great OS for life.
Come to think of it, my reading generally has moved towards self mastery. I’m currently reading Marcus Aurelius’ meditations (which, by the way is an astonishing body of work, especially given how old it is yet how insightful it remains to this day).
I’ve also really enjoyed Tim Ferriss’ books over the years. I’ve mentioned him plenty of times in the blog, so have a look around.
Another favourite book I’ve read in the last year is Good Clean Fun by Nick Offerman. It’s a book on woodwork and craftsmanship, which is hygge in a way – it’s an appreciation for ‘real’ and the act of making is both meditative and self-reliant. Again, a lovely book that I really enjoyed.
I’ve almost subconsciously moved in this direction.
This is a health and fitness blog though, so onto hygge and health…
Hygge and health – the link.
What I’ve done so far is go on a long-winded journey about how I came across hygge and my years being themed. I’ve suggested a few books and I’ve hinted at the self-hygge-health link, without giving details. Forgive me, I’ll get to the point now…
Hygge, Marcus Aurelius, Craftsmanship, Tim Ferriss.
You’ll notice the books and my reading is around returning the locus of control to the self.
This is key, because when we control ourselves, we control our health. Understanding this is the reason I wanted to theme my year towards the self.
This may sound a bit dry, but I think a lack of control is often the biggest driver towards ill-health.
Loss of control and loss of health…
When talking about nutrition and eating habits, we use sometimes use (perhaps unwittingly) ‘control’ as part of the vernacular…
“My eating is out of control“
“I can’t control my cravings”
“When there’s junk food in the house I can’t control myself”
When we surrender control, or even the feeling of control, we start to lose the metaphorical battle to maintain or improve our health.
It goes beyond food. Another area where a lack of control can affect health is stress.
The major stressor most of us have (beyond health of family and friends) is work. This study in the British Medical Journal cited that a sense of lack of control is a key cause of workplace stress. With mental health and physical health being two sides of the same coin, the case against stress is well and truly built.
We lose control over food, we end up (usually) eating too much and wrong stuff, leading to weight gain
We lose control over out work, we end up with more and more stress, basically until retirement.
When we’re stressed/unhappy, my thinking (backed by no science, it’s just a gut feeling) is that we seek sedation in other ways – drinking too much alcohol, taking drugs, eating too much food, having affairs and a whole host of other questionable acts.
I doubt many truly happy and grateful people have drink/drug/anxiety problems for example.
Hygge and Health – a Contradiction?
How does hygge relate to health? In many ways hygge is about sitting, being still, enjoying indulgent foods etc – hardly a bed fellow of exercise and dietary control.
My interpretation of hygge though is enjoying pleasure in simple thing’. Enjoying and rewarding self-control and self-mastery.
If you think back to what I said earlier, if we have control over ourselves – our eating, our decisions, our exercise activities etc, we have control of our health. When we’re in control, we can reward ourselves appropriately without it becoming a binge of epic proportions.
Experiencing hygge can be a reward for control.
If we control ourselves enough to eat a reasonable (rather than excessive) amount of food, or we control ourselves to ensure we exercise or work rather than always rest or play, we can reward ourselves with hygge activities such as eating cake!
In my eyes, hygge is something to be enjoyed. It’s a reward. A reward for hard work. A reward for an acceptable level of self-control.
Hygge and Health – Concluded
If we re-frame hygge as ‘reward’ rather than ‘indulgence’, we can quite easily link the two things.
By focussing on control – of our thoughts, actions and behaviours, we can ensure that we earn our right to enjoy hygge. If it’s a reward, then by definition it has to be earned.
If we earn that reward with exercise, appropriate nutrition and general self control then we can justifiably hygge hard!
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