Health and happiness are one and the same though our health care rarely reflects this sentiment. But think about it. If you’re not healthy, you are probably not happy. And if you’re not happy, you’re probably not feeling real healthy.
This has to do with the mind-body connection. Most of us have of heard this term before. Most of us have read an article or two about it and maybe tried meditating for a week. But we soon forgot about it because we failed to grasp the significance. The mind-body connection is a two-way street. What we experience mentally and emotionally can affect how we feel physically and what we feel physically can affect what we feel emotionally. And this is based in physiology. Everything we experience in our body and our mind is based in physiology. That means that a certain thought corresponds to certain physiology that can affect other physiology that interferes with more physiology and so on.
The point I’m trying to make is that diet and exercise are not enough when it comes to health. We have to stop segregating our mental experience, our thoughts and emotions, from the rest of our body and health. If we are serious about this idea of health, we need to work on our mental health just like we work on our physical health.
So how do we address our mental health? We need to learn how to be happy. Happiness is not a passive feeling. Happiness is something that you do. It is something that you create by your actions. So we need to learn how to live our lives in a way that cultivates happiness.
Most of us don’t make room for happiness in our lives. We crave happiness. We long for it and bemoan its absence. But how we choose to spend our time, what we decide to do in our lives often precludes happiness. Our actions make it impossible to feel happy.
Deconstructing our existence to make room for happiness takes time, work, and support. It may require big life changes like quitting a job or ending a relationship. It may require reprogramming our brains to circumvent destructive thought patterns. It may require learning new tools and skills that you practice every day.
But while you are doing this work, there are small things you can do now to experience more moments of happiness in your life. To do this, we are going to look to our friends in Denmark.
The people of Denmark are considered the happiest people in the world. Much of this is credited to their cultural practice of hygge (pronounced Hoo-ga). There is no direct translation to English but it represents the idea of coziness, joy, and wellbeing. And the practice of hygge is different for everyone. A hygge moment may be cuddling on the couch, enjoying a yummy meal with friends and family, or enjoying candlelight.
Basically, hygge is about indulgent mindfulness. It is about sinking into a moment, luxuriating in it, and indulging in it. It is about connection. Connecting with yourself, with the moment, and with your friends and family. It is about slowing down and taking pleasure in the small things.
Many people struggle with mindfulness, especially when the goal is to relax. We feel relaxation is a privilege that we have to earn. If we haven’t completed everything on the to-do list, we do not have the right to relax. If we haven’t responded to all the emails in the inbox, we do not have the right to relax. If we haven’t done all the laundry, we do not have the right to relax.
Women especially struggle with this. We are conditioned to be caretakers and people-pleasers. We are conditioned to put our wants and needs last. So indulgent mindfulness seems selfish and wrong. But remember, this is about our happiness and therefore, our health. And relaxation and happiness is a necessity, not something we have to earn. If the idea of enjoying a hygge moment where you sit in front of the fire enjoying a good book and a cup of tea makes you feel uncomfortable, start using a mantra to retrain your brain. Say out loud, “I am worthy of this moment of relaxation” or “I deserve a happy moment” or even “I am comfortable relaxing”. Repeat it until you begin to believe it.
Now check out ideas on how to practice hygge in your life. Commit to creating a hygge moment once a week. Then, create hygge moments a few times a week until you do it everyday.
How to Hygge
Turn off the devices
The first step to cultivating hygge is to get rid of the distractions. Remember, hygge is about mindfulness and connection. You can have either if you are staring at a screen. So turn off your phone during dinner, turn off the television in the evening, and shut down the computer when you are not working.
Enjoy more candlelight
Hygge is all about creating the right atmosphere to indulge in mindfulness and connection. And candlelight always has the power to create an intimate atmosphere. Eat your dinner by candlelight. Light some candles when you take a bath. Chat by candlelight with your family after dinner.
Indulge in a hot beverage
In Denmark, a hot drink is usually part of a hygge moment. Create an evening ritual before bed that involves making a cup of herbal tea that you enjoy while reading a book or talking to your partner.
Enjoy meals with family and friends
Forget about lavish dinner parties or fancy holiday dinners. Start enjoying simple, informal meals with your friends, families, or neighbors more often. Meals have the power to bring people together and cultivate connection.
Connecting with nature is a great way to cultivate mindfulness. So go for a walk with a friend or spend 20 minutes stargazing with your partner in the evening.
Don’t forget the pets
Spend some quality time with your pet. Pets, like people, have primary ways in which they give and receive love (called love languages). For example, my cat feels most loved when I spend time with him in the vegetable garden. My other cat feels most loved when I pet her and snuggle with her. But remember, this is about mindfulness and connection. Not just going through the motions. For example, if I absentmindedly pet my cat while checking Facebook, I would not be creating a hygge moment.
Figure out what hygge means for you and share it in the comments below. Remember, this is just a small way to cultivate happiness in our lives to improve our health.
I'm Dr. Carly and my mission is to create a health revolution. I believe that another prescription is not the answer. I believe in using natural therapies that go beyond the symptoms. And I believe that doctors should spend way more than 7 minutes with a patient.