I haven’t heard rain for over 12 straight hours for a long time. After being caught out last Monday, I’m now taking an umbrella wherever I go, despite the fact that it looks like a glorious blue-skied October day when I leave the house. This autumn seems to have clad itself in a damp gloom. When my husband and I first moved back to the UK from San Francisco, five years ago, it was this time of year that began to sog its way through to our spirits and made us low. What the hell had we done? It’s interesting to notice that now we may still not have bought real deal wet weather gear to protect me from the elements, but both he and I have acquired some form of Gortex for our spirits. This shitty weather ain’t getting us down.
It was when I was living in San Francisco that a friend, Karen, introduced me to the concept of hygge. There have been whole blog posts dedicated to trying to translate the word, so I won’t rehash here in detail—but the nub of it is about creating opportunities for happy, cosy times when life (and weather) is rubbish. There’s a swathe of literature around Seasonal Affective Disorder and solutions for it—amazing that the Danes are some of the happiest folk in the world and they live, for half the year, in one of the darkest corners. I’m guessing hygge might have something to do with it.
For me it’s fun to think about how to bring hygge both to home and to work. What do we need to feel happy and to thrive over the next few months? What will make us feel warm and united rather than sodden and alone?
Work for me is trickier—we often work remotely. So I’m looking forward to having a conversation with my small but brilliant team about what we could do to hyggify our working week over the months to come. I certainly don’t have the answers.
But I do have more of a clue about how to do it at home. Over the last few years I’ve tried my hand at a few different crafts. I know, I’m turning into one of those people. There’s sculpting (with wax—less messy, less fast, easier to do at home), crocheting and knitting (fast & ugly vs slow & lovely), I even tried my hand at embroidery (an American friend sent me patterns for embroidering various meat cuts—ham hocks, bacon rashers). My husband and I have often resorted to making Christmas presents rather than buying them, less out of a desire to be cute and more out of the necessity coming from being skint. International romance—the visas, lawyer fees, passports and plane fares back and forth to visit family—is gloriously expensive.
And yesterday evening was my first hygge evening of the year. I spent a happy hour trawling through our new bookshelves to find the various crafty books we’ve gathered over the years—how to make cheese, soap, Christmas candy, paper cut outs, amigurumi animals and tables. And then I pulled out my huge bag of wool, found a suitable crochet hook, and started out on a quick neck warmer for our kid. I’ve just finished lapping up a TV series, Suits, and have made myself slightly sick from ingesting so much crap. So the next few evenings are going to include a series of podcasts or books on tape, so that I can soak up interesting, beautiful words, while my fingers hook, knot and pull.
Friends and I have recently been talking about fun things to do together to create some collective hygge. Cooking from scratch and nights of mahjong have both been put on the table. And my husband and I are going to have to plot out what the hell we’re going to be making for Christmas presents this year. He’s got his heart set on damson port. I think I might just go for tiffin.
A night of podcasts, wool and a lovely cup of tea might forcibly cast many people into a depression—so please don’t think that I’m touting crochet as a panacea for these darker months. But there is something about proactively finding happy-making activities on grim and grisly days that can help us pull against the tide of gloom. Clearly I am a fan of thinking about what makes us flourish—not just the strengths and skills that can help us thrive, but also the actions, activities and behaviours we can adopt for ourselves, to do so. I’m not into passively waiting for the good life to come to us.
As for hygge, the art of it lies, I guess, in knowing what makes you happy, and what you can afford. And I might as well confess to buying scratch cards still. I do love my seasonal knitting, but having enough cash to go on a month-long trip to Thailand would sure as hell get me to banish my needles to the back of the cupboard.