Hygge and the Practice of Restfulness
Early morning winter light in soft hues of slate gray and hints of blue illuminates the stoic darkness of the pines and highlights the contrasting whiteness of the delicate birches out my window. Large, lacy snowflakes flit past, tumbling in clusters to the frozen ground. They are in no particular hurry, settling on branches and fence posts and rooftops alike. There is no wind, and all is absolutely quiet and still.
I could be bolting into the day, furiously brushing teeth, snarfing food, and pelting out the door to the long list of obligations, but instead I take this moment to watch the trees and the swirling dance of the snow, reminding me that nature offers peace and grace, even in these turgid times. Our society sadly rewards that dogged, work-and-commitment-packed lifestyle that creates a frenzied, harried, over-stressed and under-slept lifestyle, worn as a badge of honor. To keep going, we find ourselves relying on caffeine, sugar, and adrenaline. But this is neither a healthy nor a sustainable situation, and the rhythms of wintertime on the homestead can offer a meaningful alternative.
Hygge (said hoo-gah) is the Danish practice of wintering that actively encourages comfort and joy—“coziness”—in these dark times of the year. This is a different kind of joy from thrill-seeking, which prizes novelty and adventure. This past year, as we’ve all needed to shelter in place, the amount of novelty and adventure potential has remarkably dwindled. Since late March of last year, I’ve only been further than our mailbox twice, and we’ve forgone taking any winter vacations in the midst of the pandemic. So, here I am with our beautiful farm and woods, seeking contentment and fulfillment without a change of scenery.
Fortunately, thrill and novelty aren’t necessary for the practice of hygge, which is steeped in the realm of the everyday. Thrill-seeking, in the end, is never its own satisfaction anyway, as each time must top the last to produce the adrenaline rush. The movie industry knows this much too well! The aftershock of that adrenaline rush is also exhausting—on top of the already taxing situation of contemporary living. Instead, we should seek a way to fill up inside with peacefulness, rather than a high.
Restfulness is a practice that offers an alternative to the frenzied modern pace. It’s taking that walk from the house to the barn in the morning slowly, head up instead of head down. It’s listening to the birds of the morning, watching for the tracks of crows and the snowshoe hare. It’s noticing the little white ermine popping up to look curiously at you before darting on its way. When we are too busy being busy, heads down intent on rushing to the next task, we miss these moments.
The small moments of morning chores offer themselves as well, grounded in the familiarity of their routine. The animals find a sense of ease and assurance in that routine, knowing that all is right with their world as you fulfill your part of the silent contract of stewardship. The hens gleefully scratch through the fresh layer of wood shaving bedding, contorting in their dust-bathing yoga poses as if this is the most wonderful moment of the week. The ducks barrel out the door past my legs, ever thrilled to reach their kiddie pool of water once more, as if every day is the first day ever for this joy.
We can learn from their example and see that each moment offers its own host of tiny joys that we could easily miss by chasing bigger thrills. My experience is that those tiny, everyday joys are where we can find opportunities to fill the inner cup. To find them, we must be willing to accept a slower pace and open our senses to observation in order not to miss them.
A practice of restfulness can show us how we can cultivate inner peace. Measured, repetitive activities like knitting, crochet, or weaving have been shown to release chemicals in the brain that reduce stress and foster a sense of wellbeing. And, in the process, warm and cozy wearables emerge, which also fits perfectly within the practice of hygge. Add this practice to a comfy chair by the woodstove on a snowy evening, and the whole environment comes together to foster restfulness.
Resting isn’t just for sleeping. We can cultivate restfulness throughout the day. Wintertime is nature’s season for rest. All spring she grows and births. In summer she shines and soaks in as much energy from the sun as possible. In autumn she ripens and gathers and releases the garments of summertime. In winter, she rests and recovers before spring returns. But restfulness is not death. The ancient poet Rumi wrote:
Don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It’s quiet, but the roots are down there riotous.
Restfulness is a time to feed the roots. It’s a time to take care of that deep part of yourself that yearns to be nurtured and heard and comforted and loved. It’s a time to cultivate these elements for our loved ones around us. It’s a time to embrace the stillness of winter as an anchor for inner peace, rather than as a burden to endure before life grows exciting again. Without a season of renewal, the exhaustion never ceases, and the soul never heals.
This week, find ways to cultivate hygge and restfulness in your daily practice and see what happens. Maybe the magical snowshoe hare will cross your path too. See you down on the farm sometime.