by Andy Cope
Winter looms. Darkness rules. You can expect lots of storms with names. Look around you and you’ll see windswept skylines and bleak people. It brings to mind the classic line from the movie ‘6th Sense’ in which a young boy confides to Bruce Willis, ‘I see dead people’.
And I see them too. Especially, but not exclusively, at this time of year. Hordes of folk who are alive but not really living. Too many people are having what I call a ‘near life experience’.
I’ve been studying the science of happiness for 12 years and here a few lessons to help us turn the winter blues into pinks, oranges, reds, neon green and sparkly turquoise.
Lesson #1: What have the Danes ever done for us?
Something you might be familiar with, the Danish concept of ‘hygge’. It’s a super-sexy word that’s been doing the rounds since last winter. Pronounced ‘hoo-ga’, there is no direct English translation. Sitting by the fire on a cold night, wearing a woolly jumper, while drinking hot chocolate and stroking the cat on my knee. That's pretty much ‘hygge’. Eating home-made cake, being wrapped up in scarf and beanie on an early morning walk, Early Grey served in a proper china cup, family get-togethers at my mum’s, getting into a bed warmed through by an electric blanket - they're all hygge too.
The best approximation is ‘cosiness’ or ‘being enveloped in snuggliness’, but it’s much more than that. Hygee is an entire attitude to life that helps Denmark to consistently rank in the top 3 world's happiest countries. Helen Russell suggests that "The rest of the world seems to be slowly waking up to what Danes have been wise to for generations - that having a relaxed, cosy time with friends and family, often with coffee, cake or beer, can be good for the soul." This incredibly simple quote is more important than it might seem. It mentions family and friends and hints at what we already know, that relationships are crucial to happiness. Eating cake and drinking beer on your own might be very tasty but it’s certainly not hygge. A sense of belonging is crucial, whether that’s to a family or community. And this is where there is massive strain on UK happiness. We are so busy that we don’t know who lives next door, or family is spread so far and wide that we only see once in a blue moon. Social media has opened up the communication channels so that you can be in touch with anyone – via a keyboard. But that’s most certainly not hygge.
I can’t help thinking that winter is perfect for hygge spotting. If it’s good enough for the happiest country on the planet, then it’s good enough for me and thee.
Lesson #2: 7 second hugs
Trust me on this. The average hug lasts 2.1 seconds. Which is perfectly fine. But for the love to properly transfer between two people, a hug needs to last 7 seconds or longer. Obviously, reserve it for the people you love most (so, for example, it’s not administered to strangers in the park) and don’t count out loud (cos that kills it) but get it right and it’s a game changer.
Have a huggy winter. It spreads warmth, love and happiness.
Lesson #3: Calculate your happiness
According to the esteemed researchers at the University of London’s Institute of Education, here are some monetary values of happiness:
- Seeing friends and relatives is equivalent to a pay rise of £64k a year
- Having nice neighbours is worth £37k a year
- And the biggy? Excellent health is estimated to be worth £300k a year to you
I sincerely hope you can tick some of the boxes above, in which case, please do your sums. If you can tick them all then you’re a lottery winner. That should put a spring in your step.
Lesson #4: Quit your ‘wait problem’
Too many people are putting happiness in the wrong time zone; I’ll be happy at Christmas, I’ll be happy in the summer, I’ll be happy when I retire…
The result is we have a massive ‘wait problem’. Getting stuck in the rut of wishing your life away is a terrible waste of your days. In fact, it makes no sense at all. So wake up to the fact that Winter and Summer are equal. They both represent a quarter of your life.
Quit waiting. Life is the ultimate special occasion.
Lesson #5: More Scandanavian Happiness
The Swedes have a word, Lagom, which doesn’t quite translate into English. The best approximation might be ‘adequate’, ‘sufficient’ or if I’m allowed to create a new word, ‘enoughness’. The science of happiness tells us that there’s nothing wrong with having money and possessions (at no point on the money/happiness graph does money make you less happy) but the relentless pursuit of ‘more’ leads to unhappiness.
So quit pursuing more and settle for the happy medium of lagom. With a super-expensive Christmas looming, think about cutting down on ‘stuff’’. A really cool happiness trick is to learn to appreciate what you already have.
Andy Cope is the author of Happiness – your route-map to inner joy. Available now on Amazon. Find out more about Andy at http://www.artofbrilliance.co.uk/