I feel like I say this every time I look at the calendar, but wow, this year has flown by. The March that would never end feels like it was a lifetime ago at this point. We’re now entering November – a month characterized by abundance, at least for us Americans. An abundance of food and drinks and family time and shopping.
There’s no doubt that some things might be different this year, and the pandemic may serve to temper some of that abundance (at least when it comes to gatherings and holiday shopping). But more than that, I truly hope that the circumstances of this year give people cause to slow down and focus on what I think is the true meaning of this season: gratitude. All Thanksgiving politics (and history) aside, November and the holiday season is a time to be thankful, and find happiness in the things and people we have around us. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that everything we know can change in an instant, so we have to make the most of what is right in front of us.
As I’m reflecting on this year, and thinking ahead to what the next few months may bring, I’m looking for all the ways that I can lean into gratitude, cultivate mindfulness, and fully embrace all the little moments that I find myself in. In that effort, I find myself returning to some helpful guiding principles… straight from Scandinavia. Keep reading below, and I’ll explain.
Before I go any further, we all know what today is.
Today is Election Day. Whether you’re waiting at the polls today, or have already voted and are just anxiously waiting for the results to roll in, today is a HUGE day for all of us.
I know I’m not alone in feeling a lot of stress and uncertainty over what’s going to happen today and how it’s going to effect our country, our friendships, our day-to-day lives. According to the American Psychological Association, nearly 70% of people are experiencing election anxiety. To put that into context, in 2016, that number was around 52%. It is indeed a crazy time, people.
Luckily, there’s so much information out there to help answer almost any question you could possible have about the voting process, what comes next, what’s at stake, and how to deal with it all. I wanted to share a few articles I’ve come across in the past few days that could be helpful to turn to, including:
- A breakdown from PBS on how the races are called‘ and what to expect tonight
- The Associated Press has a few more things to keep in mind, including what’s different for election workers this year (because of Covid) and what to look out for ahead of the official call.
- Okay, news aside, here’s 10 Therapist-Approved Ways to Deal with All That Election Stress (including self-imposed social media limits and some good old-fashioned contingency planning)
- And here’s a list of 23 Easy-Watching, Stress-Relieving TV Shows To Watch As The Election Results Come In
This season (and beyond), I’m taking a cue from the experts…
And by experts, I mean some of the happiest people on Earth, which consistently seem to be in Scandinavian countries like Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The people there, over generations, have developed several concepts and principles to live by that center on balance, serenity, and some healthy indulgence. This year in particular, I’m leaning into the ideas of friluftsliv, hygge, niksen, and lagom.
Friluftsliv (pronounced “free-loofts-liv”) is all about honoring and embracing the beauty of nature, particularly in the winter, through open-air living and outdoor adventures.
I think this is particularly important in 2020, which has been punctured by lockdown orders and restrictions on what we can do outside our home. As one psychotherapist puts it, “previously we would think that the winter is the time to snuggle up with a book, but this year I would encourage anyone who’s looking for a positive headspace during the winter months to begin seeing the outdoors as a space for endless possibilities, as well as a new way to challenge their current way of life.”
Spending some meaningful time outdoors is good for both our mental and physical well-being. And embracing the Nordic idea of friluftsliv is as simple as bundling up in your warm winter gear and walking out your front door. Wrap your scarf a little tighter, and enjoy a stroll through your neighborhood, local park, or your favorite part of downtown.
On the flip side, I do hope to balance some of that time frolicking out in the cold with a lot of warm nights spent curled up under blankets with some hot chocolate. That’s where hygge comes in.
Hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”) can best be described as the feeling of coziness and comfort. It’s the concept of achieving well-being, or finding contentment, through cherishing the little things in life.
Hygge is regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish society and I think we are all here for it. Unlike friluftsliv, which can be achieved through doing specific things, Hygge is more like a way of life or a mindset, one that influences environments we create for ourselves, how we choose to spend our time, and who we surround ourselves with. Basically, hygge is a way of approaching any given situation and figuring out how to create memorable, charming and special experiences out of ordinary moments.
Meik Wiking, the author of The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living says “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things.” He adds that “it is about being with the people we love; a feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and are allowing ourselves to let our guard down.”
You can embrace hygge by simply turning to the little things that bring you joy, coziness and comfort. Maybe that’s lighting candles, or snuggling up with soft blankets and good books. Maybe it’s pouring yourself a hot drink, or watching a movie while cuddling with your significant other (which includes your fur baby), or a long phone call with Mom. Maybe it’s an at-home facial, or adding twinkle lights to your bedroom,
And then there is Niksen.
Niksen is essentially the art of doing nothing. It’s about carving out time to just be. It’s about letting your mind wander and your sense roam, without any plan of action.
Literally, Niksen is the exact opposite of productivity. This one is probably the hardest concept for any type A personality, like myself, to embrace. Especially in our society that rewards hustling at all costs, considering exhaustion and stress to be badges of honor and metrics for success. Practicing Niksen is a good exercise for those of us who need to break that mold… those of us who need to learn how to be alone with ourselves and our thoughts.
In today’s world, stress levels continue to climb, which can lead to a domino effect of mental and physical health problems. According to research, the art of slowing down and doing nothing may help counteract some of these effects over time. Plus it’s also a great way to clear our head, and maybe make room for new ideas.
Practicing Niksen can be as simple as sitting and gazing out a window, listening to music, or free-hand drawing.
Finally, bring all of these concepts together, is the Swedish principle of lagom.
Lagom is essentially a way to describe a lifestyle ruled by balance and mindfulness. The term roughly translates to “not too little, not too much”. Lagom is basically the opposite of a work hard, play hard mentality, all about finding the middle ground between happiness and productivity.
Linnea Dunne, a native Swede and author of lagom lifestyle guide Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living says this concept of lagom is the real reason why Swedes and other Scandinavian peoples are consistently ranked as being some the happiest and most productive people in the world.
At the end of the day, the ideas behind friluftsliv, hygge and niksen are all about achieving this concept of Lagom. Embracing nature, leaning into small joys and comforts, and finding ways to slow down are all important ways to achieve balance in a day-to-day life that is consumed with demanding work, family obligations, political turmoil, climate change, not to mention a pandemic.
As we move further into the holiday season and the month of November, these concepts are inspiring me to live more intentionally. To focus less on how much I can check off my to-do list, how many things I can make or buy or gift wrap… and focus more on how each moment feels, and the ways in which I can create space to experience gratitude, or at least reflect on how far I’ve come, not just where I have left to go.
I hope you all kind find ways to do the same, and really lean into the things and people that bring you comfort and joy this year. In the meantime, I hope to share more of the ways I’m embracing friluftsliv, hygge, niksen, and lagom in blog posts to come — with delicious recipes, reading recommendations, journal prompts, and inspiration for creating cozy, memorable moments this season.