Cultivating Hygge (Contentment) as a Highly Sensitive Person EVEN WHILE Out With Other People…

Picture originally featured in: https://www.tastecooking.com/hygge-the-end/

Unless you’re living in Denmark right now…or perhaps are just more worldly than I am as  rule…my guess is that you read the title of this and asked “What’s Hygge? And how the hell do you pronounce that?”

Hygge (pronounced Hoo-gah) is a quality. It’s a way of being. The dictionary definition reads: “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture.)”

Basically, if you’re looking to conjure up an image of hygge, just imagine yourself indoors during a dark winter night. A fire is going. Candles are lit all around you. You are wrapped up in soft clothes and a blanket sits over your lap. Warm fuzzy slippers hug your feet. A cup of warm tea is nestled between your hands. Oh…and it’s raining outside. Don’t forget about the rain.

I stumbled across this concept, recently. I was on a date and we had meandered into a bookstore. Propped up on one of the recommended reading bookshelves was a book about Hygge. I picked it up on a whim, started reading, and immediately decided that THIS was exactly the sort of life that I am looking to cultivate for myself. I felt like I had found a compass whose needle would reliably point in the direction of my true north.

I have never needed wild excitement on roller coaster rides to experience joy (although, don’t get me wrong…I do LOVE a good roller coaster ride). My joy has almost always come from local, low-hanging fruit sources.

Just the other night, for example, I was out and about in San Francisco. I was sandwiched between three erudite, easy-going young men (which…can I just say…hubba hubba! Is there anything more attractive than an intelligent and amiable human?) They had all decided to order cocktails. I, meanwhile, had opted on…tea. Yes that’s right, folks. I was in a perfectly respectable bar and I had ordered chamomile tea.

I do want to pause here for just a moment. I LOVE a good cocktail. I’m a Manhattan girl, myself. Or hell…just bring me a solid scotch. Neat. No need for fancy fixings. I’ll be allllll set. So I don’t want to lend the impression that hygge is necessarily prudish or non-alcoholic in nature. It’s just that, in that moment, I wasn’t in need of a buzz. I wanted the satisfying sensation of a warm beverage cushioned between my palms.

The young men around me continued to talk. I listened. I heard them speak to the quandary of currency exchange between Chile and Argentina (which is actually pretty interesting, by the way. Apparently, once in Argentina, you cannot officially buy Chilean pesos. But I digress…)

I may or  may not have been scorned (kindly) for my choice in beverage. I believe they said something about their hopes that I would become a grownup someday?? Meh. Something like that.

But I didn’t care.

My spine erected itself. I put my nose down to smell the herbal concoction in my mug. I performed my usual wiggle of contentment. No one can take me from my happy place when I have tea.

This sort of situation is a perfect example of the potential challenge that can present itself to highly sensitive people. Most people live in a world where cocktail hour is more satisfying than tea time. Most people live in a world where fireworks and neon lighting is at LEAST marginally more interesting than a fireplace. But highly sensitive people live in a slightly different universe. We are, to be frank, much more easily amused.

And highly sensitive people are often teased for it…although most of the time, in my experience, it’s a soft sort of mockery. And they are almost always looked upon with a certain amount of curiosity and a slight bit of “wait…huh?”

The tragedy, here, is not in the knowing of this truth (that we are a bit odd). The tragedy comes when we highly sensitive people take other people’s confusion personally. We can find ourselves feeling a bit self-conscious about our preferences. Perhaps we SHOULD drink the metaphorical cocktail rather than tea? Maybe we SHOULD want loud and robust experiences over quiet contentment? Wanting to fit in (because we are so irritatingly sensitive about how other people see us), we often adjust our behavior to mimic the crowd around us. We do so love to be likable, after all. And aren’t we more likely to find ourselves in the likable category if we just go with the flow of things? You know…when in Rome…

To that I draw a very solid line and say “No” or at the very least…”not necessarily…”

Because here is the thing, folks…most people really and truly do not give a f*** what you do. Those boys in that bar were perfectly happy with their cocktails. My tea did not offend them. It might have amused them. But it certainly didn’t derail them from the deliciousness of their negronis. It didn’t interrupt, in any way, the flow of their conversation about Chile. And I had the pleasure of being able to soak in the experience of being warm, cozy, comfortably seated and in good company.

Notice what I said, there. I had the experience of contentment WHILE being out with a group of people. Often highly sensitive people walk around with this unexamined assumption that the experience of hygge (or profound contentment and comfort) can only ever be found in solitude. Leaving aside the fact that Danish people are often champions of introversion (and therefore DO find comfort in solitude) this doesn’t mean that we HAVE to experience it alone.

What we DO need to do is develop a very refined sense of self-awareness. We need to be able to discern exactly what would bring us contentment at exactly the moment we are looking for it. And then we need to figure out how to cultivate that experience for ourselves whether at home and alone, or in the company of people with whom we delight in spending time.

In my case, the kinds of things that bring me a sense of hygge include:

  • A cup of hot tea on a cold day
  • A warm bowl of soup when I’m feeling stuffy
  • The smell of lavender
  • A warm and dry towel wrapped around me after a bath
  • My dog snuggled up beside me on the couch
  • A gentle touch from a lover
  • A bear hug from a beloved friend
  • An hour in quiet solitude
  • An hour in engaging conversation
  • A few moments on a swing set
  • A home cooked meal with friends and family

None of these things are terribly interesting. But they all provide me with an efficient portal to happiness. I know it because I have spent a lifetime paying attention. To the world around me, and to the way my system responds to any number of inputs.

And maybe that’s the only thing we really need to know if we want to cultivate hygge; we need to be well acquainted with ourselves. 

I know myself well enough, by now, to understand that I will never be a good representative of glamour, excitement, or style. I don’t dress to impress. I dress for comfort. My hair isn’t lush and long, but short and sporty. I like getting a light buzz but don’t care to get drunk (unless dancing is involved. Then…maybe…) I prefer a few long stretches of conversation to a wide variety of short bursts of small talk. I wear flats, not heals. I wear chapstick and not lipstick.

Most highly sensitive people are like me in that they are generally very clear about what makes them feel comfortable in the world. The challenge they are faced with is finding a way to assert those needs while out and about with others. If they have to choose between being honest and being liked, they prefer being liked. Conflict is really and truly very uncomfortable.

But I’m done with that. I’m done trying to contort myself into the role I think the man in front of me wants to see. I’m done trying to impress a group of people and show them just how like “one of the boys” I can be. It’s exhausting.

Now, instead of assuming I can only find hygge in the comfort of my own home…I will find ways to bring it with me.

And if the people around me don’t like it…well…dems weren’t my people to begin with.

Leave a Reply