Why Christians Should Embrace Hygge
There are two types of Christians, those who embrace fads without any concern for the spiritual consequences, and those who shun any new fad without considering the spiritual benefits. I like to fall somewhere in the middle and surround new fads with a warm embrace of skepticism.
Hygge is one such fad, and as it makes its sweeping takeover in books, blogposts, magazines, and on Pinterest, it is slowly becoming the new definition of health and well-being.
What is Hygge?
Hygge is a Danish practice that is hard to explain. Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen wrote The Little Book of Hygge, in which he described hygge this way:
"Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down (2017, p. vi).
Although there are specific things we associate with the practice of hygge (fireplaces and candlelight, warm drinks, wool socks, etc.), hygge is very much immaterial; it is more about what is going on inside of people than what objects are in their midst. Certainly, objects can be calming and help bring us this sense of safety, but hygge is the search for the feeling, not the object.
Why Is There Concern?
Hygge is a very non-physical practice, and "spiritual" practices bring a lot of concern into the Christian community. Consider for a moment that the word "spiritual" is not a reference to the Holy Spirit. Instead, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "spiritual" as, "of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit," where "spirit" is best defined as, "the immaterial intelligent or sentient part of a person" (spiritual, 2017; spirit, 2017). Generally speaking, practices that address the immaterial are approached with great caution by the Christian community. This caution has merit, and we will discuss it more in-depth toward the end of this article.
I'll be fairly quick to say that the benefits outweigh the detriments. Hygge has so much to offer in support of a true Christian lifestyle, and there are many reasons why I believe Christians should embrace this practice. Mind you, this is definitely not an exhaustive list of the tenets of hygge, but it help you understand some of the benefits.
1. Belonging, Fellowship, and Community
There is a social aspect to Hygge that focuses on spending time with friends and family, building relationships, and being with others. These times of togetherness are marked by what Miek Wiking calls "equality...harmony...(and) truce" (2017, pp. 30-1). He defines these three aspects as follows:
Equality: "We" over "me." Share the tasks and the airtime.
Harmony: It's not a competition. We already like you. There is no need to brag about your achievements.
Truce: No drama. Let's discuss politics another day. (2017, pp. 30-1).
When we bring these three pieces into our communication and relationships, there is no need for the approval of others. John Ortberg further investigates our need for approval in his book, The Life You've Always Wanted:
I refer to what might be called "approval addiction." Some people live in bondage to what others think of them...This addiction has been around since Cain felt out sacrificed by Abel. Cain killed his brother over who was doing best at being acceptable to God (Ortberg, 2002, pp. 158-9).
Sometimes, I think we want to be like Cain and kill each other in our desperate search for approval. The hygge way is to not bring this addiction into our fellowship. As Christians, we should accept who we are in Christ and not worry about the approval of others.
Hygge emphasizes being content with what you have, and embracing the joy of living in every moment. For example, to "hygge" during an afternoon, you may consider that even though the dishwasher is broken and you must wash dishes by hand, the sun is shining and your favorite songs are playing on the radio. To hygge is to find pleasure in the little things.
I want to take a moment to remind you that God loves when we are content, but He also loves when we find joy in small things. Although we will experience suffering, He encourages us to have joy. In John 16:33 He tells us to "take heart," and in one of my new favorite passages, his servant Solomon says:
And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun. ~Ecclesiastes 8:15~
This idea of experiencing joy through toil is very Hygge; it's about finding rest and peace through the storms of life.
Hygge also emphasizes that money isn't everything, and values homemade gifts and food above expensive gifts and eating out. These principles echo scriptures encouragement for us to be content with what we have, and not long for the things we do not have.
But godliness with contentment is great gain,for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world...But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation. ~1 Timothy 6:6-7;10~
3. Selfless Self-Care
This may not be a very popular topic among Christians, but selflessness and self-care go hand-in-hand. It is not selfish to give ourselves the basic physical, spiritual, and emotional attention our minds and bodies demand; in fact, it prepares us to help and encourage others.
Christ Himself practiced self-care when He was on earth:
But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. ~Luke 5:16~
Christ did not heal every sick person He encountered, nor did He spend every moment of His time on earth healing or preaching. He ate (Mark 14:22), He slept (Mark 4:38), and He went away to spend time with the Father by Himself. Christians have a habit of thinking that if they give up food, sleep, and time in God's word, that they're performing some kind of holy sacrifice. But the reality is, if you do not care for yourself, you cannot care for others.
A popular reminder I've heard over and over again as I continue my counseling studies is the imagery of flying with a child. When the flight attendant explains what to do in an emergency, he or she tells individuals traveling with children to put their own oxygen mask on FIRST, then put the child's oxygen mask on the child. The reason should be obvious. I've also heard this applied to caretaker scenarios; if a caretaker isn't taking care of their own self, they can't take care of others.
I mention this not because self-care is a tenet of hygge, but because hygge IS self-care. The different aspects that make up hygge all come full-circle to take care of us as individuals and the people around us. Fellowship, kindness, contentment, giving, and more are all parts of what makes hygge special.
My One Concern
As I began to study Hygge for my own personal edification, I came across one particular philosophy that ironically has nothing to do with Hygge. While reading Meik Wiking's The Little Book of Hygge, I came across a reference to Abraham Maslow's "pyramid of human needs" (2017, p. 213).
For those who are unfamiliar, Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who focused on studying the "concept of self" (McMinn, M. R., 2011, p. 52). He developed a pyramid that explains human needs and our progress from fulfilling one need to fulfilling the next. At the top of his pyramid lies "self-actualization," which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as "the process of fully developing and using one's abilities" (self-actualization, 2017).
Self-actualization is a deep and heavy topic and I don't have room to explore it further now, but as a Christian I believe our ultimate goal should be to glorify God in all that we say and do (1 Corinthians 10:31). Self-actualization puts our abilities and understanding at the forefront of our lives, leaving Christ in the background. Although this is how many Christians live, I do not believe this is biblical.
It is important to note that Meik Wiking's reasons for referring to Maslow's pyramid had to do more with the base of the pyramid and nothing to do with self-actualization (2017, p. 213). I encourage you to read his book; it's fantastic.
Now, back to hygge. My concern is not that Hygge itself is dangerous, but that many Christians are unprepared to approach the worlds of sociology, psychology, and philosophy with a critical eye. In every field, experts are wrong all the time. We should not assume that just because a very smart, educated person said something that it is true.
In addition, we need to consider the worldview lens through which "discoveries" are made. Someone who does not believe there is a God will form opinions about human beings based on the idea that we do not have a creator. It is important to absorb new things with a critical eye, and take the time to find out what scripture says about the issue.
As I study to be a counselor, I'm thrilled that the practice of Hygge is receiving so much attention. The tenets it proposes are biblical and mentally sound, and teaching counseling clients about hygge will benefit the Christian and non-Christian alike. I hope hygge will also help you to enjoy life and find meaning in the simple things.
What do you think?
Is Hygge something Christians should practice?
McMinn, M. R. (2011). Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality in Christian Counseling. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Ortberg, J. (2002). The Life You've Always Wanted. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Spirit [Def. 4]. (2017, May 15). In Merriam Webster Online. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/spirit.
Spiritual [Def. 1]. (2017, May 15). In Merriam Webster Online. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/spiritual.
Wiking, M. (2017). The Little Book of Hygge. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.