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How Hygge is Saving My Life

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How Hygge is Saving My Life

By Kirsten Rosenkrantz


I had my first panic attack almost a year-and-a-half ago, but I remember it so vividly: the rapid pounding of my heart, the hot and cold sweats, the light-headedness, the invisible weight on my chest.


I literally thought I was dying.


I didn’t figure out what was happening until the third one in the span of two weeks. Finally being able to label what was going on was equally comforting and overwhelming.


Now that I knew what it was I felt, I could find a solution, or at the very least a coping mechanism, but I knew that would be so much easier said than done.


I’d been in therapy fairly regularly for most of my adult life and had been deeply aware of my anxiety and depression since I was a teenager, so this new manifestation of my anxiety wasn’t exactly a surprise to me.


But what was next?


Traditional therapy obviously wasn’t working well enough for me and I knew that I had to make changes in order to find myself some type of calm; a sense of peace.


A few weeks later my aunt gave me a copy of The Little Book of Hygge as a Christmas gift. My dad grew up in Denmark, so I imagine she thought of this gift as a nice little gesture, perhaps a bit silly and trendy, but generally something I might enjoy.


I don’t think she realized how perfect her timing was in giving me this book.


When I got home I began flipping through its pages and realized I already knew most of what was in the book. It did not teach me much but it served as a vital reminder; I had the key to finding my peace inside my head all along. I had to find my hygge again.


Hygge is hard to define exactly because it’s not something you can purchase or a class you can attend, and it means something slightly different to each individual. Generally speaking, hygge is rooted in being present and pausing to feel a deep appreciation for the simple, cozy, warm moments spent with loved ones.


Growing up with a Danish dad, we lived hygge every day. My fondest childhood memories are both hot and cold, surrounded by a warm yellow glow or the frigid navy blue of a night sky. They smell of fire and crisp snow, they feel like knit socks and warm blankets.


Summers were spent camping in Algonquin Park learning about nature and how to build a fire. My dad taught me which plants I could eat, which bark would burn even while wet from the rain (it’s birch, FYI), how to make the perfect morning oatmeal and cup of instant coffee. Our time together in the wild showed me how profound simplicity could be; that being quiet without constant distraction or entertainment opened you up to imagination, creativity, and ultimately, freedom.


But the winters were by far my favourite. Sitting in front of the fire after hours of skiing while my dad read to me, curled up on a sheepskin with my knit booties on. My dad built a sauna in our basement when I was young, and we would spend hours running back and forth from the freezing snow into the hot sauna. Christmas smelled like clementines and cloves, pine needles and the crackling fireplace. My dad would drink mulled wine (or glogg as we called it), while we listened to Bruce Cockburn, as my parents each read, my brother and I likely ruining the quiet night.


The happiest memories of my life are these ones, the ones that sit precariously on the fence between hot and cold. And while everything changed (as it always does) and most of the magic that surrounded my childhood faded away, it was always something I craved deep down inside of me but had ultimately forgotten.


Now as an adult struggling with what I can only describe as a deep unrest within myself, my sense of hygge had to evolve. I had to learn to feel that profound sense of appreciation when I was alone. I had to redefine what hygge meant to me, what it felt like living alone in a big city, how I could find those small moments of presence and comfort and genuinely be thankful for myself and the life I had created.


Even as I sit here now writing this I have a candle lit on top of my bookshelf, the glow of a hundred Christmas lights casting warm shadows all over my walls. The old sheepskin from my childhood home cushions my back, a glass of wine on my desk, a pair of knit slippers keeping my feet warm, and a hot bath just minutes away.


It’s the return to simplicity that is bringing me back to life, calming the part inside of me that has manifested itself as panic over a dozen times this past year.


Some people joke that I’ve embraced my inner grandma (they’re not entirely wrong), but what it really is is the craving for comfort that I’ve allowed myself to satiate. It turns out that I really am my father’s daughter, and returning to the way of life that created me is proving to be the way back to calm; to peace.


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