Do you ever find yourself exhausted at the end of the week? Sometimes the exhaustion starts in the middle of the week or even sooner. By the time the weekend comes, you just want to do nothing. Before you know it, it’s Monday again and you are going back to work tired, as if the weekend never even happened.
There are a lot of things that go into fatigue and stress. We all need to make sure we eat the right foods, avoid toxins, exercise, sleep enough, and meditate on a regular basis. However, one of the most important and forgotten things we need to do is work on our social connections. You may say, “what are you talking about? I have family. I have friends.” I know. You do. However, what are you doing with them? Are you just going through the mechanics of a relationship or are you truly and genuinely trying to connect with each other? Human being are social creatures. We thrive on our social connections. In fact, there is evidence that our social relationships can increase happiness (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25641486). Having more social connections has also been associated with decreased odds of suicide or attempt (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29349115). It’s not about how many relationships you have either. It is the quality of relationships. You could have one friend and be better off than someone with 100 friends if the quality of that relationship is solid.
What we often do is take these relationships for granted. We think we have them and we enjoy that we have them but at the end of the day, are we cultivating that meaningful relationship on an ongoing basis? One simple concept that my family discovered a few years ago has really helped us reconnect and rebalance: Hygge (pronounced “Hoo-Ga”).
Hygge is a Norwegian and Danish word which refers to a mood of coziness. To me, the word means warmth and love. The origins of the word hygge may even come from the word hug, which further supports the concept of coziness and comfort. Ok, so what does this mean anyway. Well, it can mean whatever you want it to mean for you and your circumstances. That’s my viewpoint. The concept is to create an environment of warmth and coziness for you, your friends, and your family. The weekends are a great time to do this because it can be hard to execute in the hustle and bustle of the work week. Vacations are also a great time to do this, but I definitely would not wait for a vacation to start. There are a few ground rules when it comes to hygge (The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking). I’ve outlined them for you below:
- Create a good atmosphere. Dimming the lights helps.
- Have presence. Turn off the phones.
- Have pleasure. Favorite foods are always helpful.
- Treat everyone with equality. It’s more about we rather than me.
- Have gratitude. Soak in all the warmth and give thanks for the opportunity to be with your loved ones.
- Be harmonious. No need to compete when playing games; everyone is there to have fun.
- Make sure you are comfortable. Wear sweatpants, warm fuzzy socks, whatever you feel the coziest in.
- No drama. Leave the arguments and debates behind.
- Be together. Reminisce on things you have in common or adventures you have been on together.
- Be in a safe place like someone’s home. The people you are with are your tribe. Hygge is a place of peace and security.
It’s really not complicated. Hygge can be whatever you want it to be (https://www.visitdenmark.co.uk/en-gb/denmark-hygge). Pick one day out of the week that works for you and your family. Make this your family hygge time. My family likes Friday nights or Saturdays. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a whole day affair. The whole point is to just be present in the moment together and enjoy the company. If you have out of town friends coming over for a visit, have fun with them….have a picnic, go for a bike ride, sit around a campfire and tell stories. Yes, you can still go to Disney World if that is what they are there for, but don’t let the “good stuff” go so easily. Make sure you connect, truly connect. It’s the memories you make when this happen that are the ones that truly stay with you and keep you warm inside. That’s what hygge is! Having a friend and being a friend are two different things. Even having one friend earlier in life, as a child, can offer a reduced risk of psychological problems later in life, as an adult https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25316094).
Here is what we do on our hygge weekends:
- No electronics or phones (outside of music). Unplug the TVs. Put away the Iphones and tablets.
- Nice meals planned out (home cooked is the best, especially where everyone can contribute to the preparation)
- Board games with the kids
- Outdoor games with the kids (shoes off is even better so you can get some earthing in!)
- Funny stories, lots of jokes, and tons of hugs (of course!)
- Aromatherapy diffuser (rose and orange citrus are a few of our favorites)
- No drama
We know, and have seen, in the published literature that there are implications for gene expression and gut microbiome diversity in relation to our social interconnectedness. This means, that just by having fun and enjoying your social connections and relationships, you could be giving yourself a dose of one of the cheapest and most powerful medicines: love. Our human physiology responds to this. Oxytocin probably plays a large role in this process. Oxytocin is a chemical that has many different functions but is often-times referred to as the “love hormone.” Some of the effects it has includes parental behavior, social bonding, falling in love, friendship, and cooperation. The gut microbiome likely plays a role in how oxytocin is released because it appears that Lactobacillus reuteri, one of the bacteria that is found in the gut, can increase blood levels of oxytocin (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27793228). I bet you would never have guessed that happiness could come from the gut!
The Danish are some of the happiest people in the world. They figured this out a long time ago. We can all learn from their example and bring hygge into our lives! The warmth and coziness of hygge will trickle down into the core of your being and deliver a dose of the best medicine to you, your genes, and your microbiome!