The Garden Spotter

Getting “Hygge” in Maine


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To Mainers and all New Englanders, “hygge” is a natural instinct. It’s simply what we do when it gets cold. We don woolly mittens and go ice skating. We drink tea and hot chocolate. We craft. We bake cookies.

Hygge, pronounced “hooga,” is a Danish concept that has been sweeping Europe and North America. Loosely defined, hygge is the art of being kind to oneself and of finding happiness in the simple pleasures of life. We’ve all experienced the comfort and contentment that comes from lighting candles, listening to music or playing a board game with friends or family. But we have to credit our Scandinavian friends with elevating the concept to an intentional practice that actually might lead to world happiness, or even world peace, if we all embrace the practice.

Danes are reportedly among the happiest and healthiest people on earth, yet they live in a region that stays dark and cold a good part of the year. Their secret, according to Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute of Copenhagen, is hygge. Wiking, who’s written one of the many books out on the subject, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, says “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe.”

In Maine, we have no official methods of measuring happiness – does anyone? – but a recent survey of the social media website Twitter found our state is second only to Hawaii in perceived happiness. Our tweets, according to the report published in The Atlantic, contain more happy words like “love,” “hope,” and “rainbow” than tweets from many other states.

Certainly, Maine has many things in common with Denmark and other Scandinavian countries. We have long, cold winters. We are rich in natural beauty and natural resources. We enjoy outdoor recreation. We love good food, and good beer. We have a rich community of artists, craftspeople and musicians. We have a growing number of young farmers, when other states are seeing a decline. Gardening is popular.

According to state mottoes, Maine is “Vacationland” and “The Way Life Should Be.” Everyone, visitors and residents alike, thinks so. How we live is considered idyllic. Those who move here do so in search of a simple, high quality life. I certainly did, and I wanted my children to experience it.

So, at a time when simplicity and do-it-yourselfing and growing your own food is becoming a thing, Maine is ahead of the curve. It’s just what we do. We hygge.

Now, let’s hygge with intention.

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