Header image courtesy of Rémi Thorel (via Unsplash)
Brought to you by Bupa Global
Got hygge? A Danish word that roughly translates into “convivial cosiness,” this concept has gained traction as a buzzword in recent years. As wellness sees a sharp upwards spike in prominence, the growing attention to self-care has uncovered the varied practices developed by different cultures to boost and enrich our lives.
Meant to fire up our serotonin and oxytocin levels—chemicals responsible for happiness, social bonding, and love—these habits are some much-welcomed notions to integrate into our daily living. Read on to learn more about how people practice wellness and self-care in different parts of the world.
When it comes to determining overall mind and body health, happiness is increasingly being seen as a crucial metric. Since 2012, the United Nations has published an annual World Happiness Report. Collating information on elements such as GDP per capita, social welfare or support, life expectancy range, and generosity, the investigations attempt to measure happiness levels amongst the world population. Although some of these factors may seem like large-scale circumstances that are difficult to control, the lifestyle choices we make in our personal lives can have a great effect that leads to bigger changes on a community or even international scale.
Despite its wild popularity in recent times, the roots of the word “hygge” have been traced back to the sixteenth-century Norwegian word “hugga,” which ties into the English “hug.” Pronounced “hoo-guh,” the English language lacks a direct translation for this much-talked-about practice. The Oxford English Dictionary highlights the definition as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” At its essence, hygge propagates warm sentiments that would encourage you to give yourself a hug!
To illustrate, Louisa Thomsen Brits—the author of bestselling The Book of Hygge— explains that hygge is “as simple as a candle, lit and placed on a windowsill to welcome someone home. It is both an inner and outer condition of simplicity; a clarity of presence and intention, and an honest, uncomplicated practice.” The attention to the present and enjoyment of sensory factors draws a parallel to mindfulness, which has been shown to help improve mental health1. It is a simple pleasure discovered in minuscule moments each day, and in time spent with loved ones.
Seen by many as the follow-up to the hygge craze, the idea underlying lagom is the advocacy for balance, revolving around the mantra of “just enough.” It shares the aim of contentment, similar to hygge, but the approach taken emphasises the value pillars of frugality and humility. These principles are applied to everything, from sharing a conversation to all forms of consumption. As a pushback, however, younger Swedes argue that this disposition, in fact, limits self-expression. Yet the benefits of embracing lagom has the potential to bring everyone greater overall satisfaction, eventually trickling down to influence our sense of self.
Frequenters of Scandi-style cafés may have heard this term before. The idea of fika is another custom held close to the hearts of many Swedes. All it entails is a simple coffee break taken with colleagues, family, or friends. It is an easy way to relax, refresh yourself, and bond with others. The type of food or drink served does not matter as much as the chilled-out vibes, though it is a tradition to serve an accompaniment of cakes with some hot coffee.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you must have at least heard of the minimalism frenzy sparked by Marie Kondo’s manual—The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Referred to by The New York Times as “the ruthless war on stuff,” the book revolves around a decluttering method that draws from Japanese Zen aesthetic principles.
The foundations of Kondo’s unique technique of cleaning up hinges upon the idea that all our possessions should “spark joy” within us, and help us to move forward rather than stay stuck in the past. The KonMari Method is particularly helpful for those who find themselves being unable to part from old items that have fallen out of use, or who are feeling weighed down by their possessions.
Regardless of if you are able to successfully renounce your belongings, keeping your things in check is actually greatly beneficial to regulating mental energy. Keeping tidy allows you to reduce stress and feel more in control2.
First publicised in 1982 as an initiative by the Japanese government, this semi-meditative exercise was conceptualised to improve public health. Forest bathing—otherwise known as shinrin-yoku (森林浴)—is the act of sitting still, wandering, and recharging amongst trees as a physiological-spiritual practice. It shares a few similarities to the Tibetan gong bath in its qualities of meditative bathing.
A study conducted by the Tokyo-based Nippon Medical School found that subjects who spent a weekend in the forest had month-long increases in their natural virus- and tumour-killer cells3. Other experiments expressed a reduction in cortisol, blood pressure, and pulse rate4. It is believed that by breathing in the essential oils emanating from the trees, practitioners are able to boost their immunity, amongst gaining other advantages.
Another study found that spending time amongst trees could lower depression and hostility rates, all whilst increasing a sense of liveliness. The conclusion drawn proposed that “shinrin-yoku may be employed as a stress-reduction method, and forest environments can be viewed as therapeutic landscapes5.” Even in busy cities like Hong Kong, there are plenty of opportunities for forest bathing!
Aside from taking off in the US, a similar custom can also be found in Norway and Sweden, as there exists the friluftsliv (pronounced “fri-loofts-live”) way of appreciating nature. Its meaning is “free air life,” which refers to any activity that allows for stimulation and interaction with the natural world. It does not have to entail camping under the stars, or outward-bound quests—even a short stroll in the park is enough to suffice.
Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes are amongst the highest scorers of the “World’s Ten Happiest Countries” study, according to a 2016 report from the UN, with Denmark holding the number one spot6. Whilst we are all subjected to different opportunities and limitations, surely it would do many of us good to take a page out of these countries’ books in terms of fostering a measured, sociable lifestyle with a keen respect for nature.
Although this work-mandated afternoon nap is no longer a universal routine, there is still much we can gather from its underlying aims. Siesta’s origins show that it was first introduced to help agricultural workers avoid the hottest part of the day, but it has now been repackaged by the age of industry and commerce as a “power nap,” reflected in the staff nap rooms provided by companies like Google and Huffington Post.
Research by NASA found that a 26-minute nap-time worked to improve the performance of astronauts7. Sleep guru Nick Littlehales adds on to this by suggesting that even quickly shutting our eyes for a second or two to take a break from our surroundings can uplift us a bit more than we think8. If your workplace has not embraced the joys of sleep pods yet, or if falling asleep during the day proves difficult for you, taking short breaks to switch off throughout the day may be the next best thing.
Similar to the concept of fika, the brief intermission of sobremesa allows workers to catch up with others, catch some shut-eye, and really let their food settle in after eating. There is a focus on dialling down the pace and taking a short while to appreciate the shared glow of a meal made special with good company.
1. NHS (http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/pages/mindfulness.aspx), last accessed in March 2017
2. Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/11/habits-of-organized-peopl_n_4921454.html), last accessed in March 2017
3. Quartz https://qz.com/804022/health-benefits-japanese-forest-bathing/), last accessed in March 2017
4. US National Library of Medicine (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19568835), last accessed in March 2017
5. Public Health Journal (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0033350606001466), last accessed in March 2017
6. World Happiness Report (http://worldhappiness.report/), last accessed in March 2017
7 and 8. The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/oct/23/the-secret-of-power-napping), last accessed in March 2017
The Independent (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/switzerland-officially-the-happiest-country-on-earth-with-britain-lagging-in-21st-place-10221591.html), last accessed in March 2017
The New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-year-of-hygge-the-danish-obsession-with-getting-cozy), last accessed in March 2017
Penguin Books (https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/find-your-next-read/extracts/2016/sep/the-book-of-hygg-louisa-thomsen-britts/), last accessed in March 2017
The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/06/lagom-sweden-hygge-lifestyle-trends), last accessed in March 2017
The Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/wellbeing/mood-and-mind/goodbye-hygge-hello-lagom-secret-swedish-contentment/), last accessed in March 2017
The Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/11677814/Scandi-food-why-Swedes-do-midsummer-and-coffee-breaks-best.html), last accessed in March 2017
The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2016/apr/05/adios-siesta-is-it-goodbye-to-spains-national-nap), last accessed in March 2017
The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/10/magazine/marie-kondo-and-the-ruthless-war-on-stuff.html), last accessed in March 2017
Sleep.org (https://sleep.org/articles/sleeping-work-companies-nap-rooms-snooze-friendly-policies/), last accessed in March 2017
iNews (https://inews.co.uk/essentials/lifestyle/wellbeing/hygge-five-heartwarming-habits-around-world/), last accessed in March 2017
Stylist magazine (http://www.stylist.co.uk/travel/hygge-friluftsliv-meaning-scandinavian-danish-denmark-norwegian-health-happiness), last accessed in March 2017
The Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/26/cities-have-worst-air-pollution-levels-world/), last accessed in March 2017
Expat Arrivals (http://www.expatarrivals.com/hong-kong/areas-and-suburbs-in-hong-kong), last accessed in March 2017
CNN (http://travel.cnn.com/hong-kong/play/best-surf-hong-kong-248053/), last accessed in March 2017
Lonely Planet (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/china/hong-kong/new-territories/sai-kung-peninsula/introduction), last accessed in March 2017
South China Morning Post (http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/travel/article/1969092/kayaking-hong-kong-where-go-and-everything-you-need), last accessed in March 2017