In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries shortlisted “hygge” as their Word of the Year. It’s a Danish word, meaning ‘a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being, defined by Oxford Dictionaries. The term doesn’t have a direct equivalent in English, but it’s associated with the word ‘hug’; it implies the soothing, homely feeling of comfort and relaxation instead of the world’s harshness and chaos. The concept can be applied to many different fields of life, but for me personally, it played a major role in diverting my mindset and attitude at work from negative to contagiously productive.
A few years ago I had a part-time job that I did not enjoy, but that was my only option at the time and on top of everything I had to do it from home. Back then, I was living in a small studio apartment and my living room had to be my office; it was physically impossible to separate the space. I remember sitting at my laptop all day long, working on something not even remotely exciting and then finishing my shift and the only difference was whether my laptop was open or not. So, even after I was done with work, I still could not relax or enjoy my time at home, because I felt that I was trapped in a box with stress hovering above me like a cloud.
One day, I accidentally came across a YouTube video about interior design and decoration and that was when I heard the word ‘hygge’ for the very first time. I did some basic research and started thinking about the possibility of making my improvised workspace a place I could enjoy and hopefully boost my productivity as well. At the time, I was already interested in home decor and all the small bits that make you enjoy the moment; like candles, fluffy cushions, warm lighting, small bookshelves, afternoon baking, drinking coffee on the balcony, watching the passers-by, etc.
However, decorating my workspace was completely new to me. What should it include? I assumed it would be different for each person, depending on the job they have and personal preferences. At the time, I needed something to remind me that there will be moments in a day to enjoy and that this job was there only temporarily. I started by writing down all the things that caused me stress and then all the things I enjoyed or could potentially enjoy at least. Identifying the things that stressed me out most, helped me think of the ways to overcome them, or mitigate their impact if they were totally unavoidable.
The next thing I did, which was one of the crucial points – judging from this point of view, was to decide when I would take breaks and for how long. Until that moment, I was always skipping on them, because I believed that I would finish my shift earlier if I just work through my break. Not only did I fail to finish earlier each and every time, but I also built up additional stress and exhaustion and just made everything way worse than how it could have been. So, I decided to always take a 30-minute break at noon, away from the laptop, doing something completely unrelated to my job. In most cases, I would have a cup of coffee on the balcony and let my thoughts drift away. It worked wonders for me; every time the break was over, I felt as if there was a magical ‘refresh’ button I could press and then resume with my work in a better mood.
The actual spot where I always sat when I worked changed very little. I chose to ignore all the suggestions that the living space and the workspace should be completely separated and focused on integrating them into a cosy, stress-free, ‘hygge’ space. I began lighting scented candles and putting fairy lights around the apartment. I also bought a few house plants, I put up post-it stickers with reminders of enjoyable activities, like the movie I wanted to watch or the book I was meaning to buy or seeing a friend, and so on. That way, I always had something to look forward to and something that would make me feel fulfilled.
Day by day, the overall ambient transformed into such a lovely space, radiating positive and peaceful energy. I cannot say I magically took to my job because I did not like it in the first place, and it was a fact, but it was just a temporary experience, and I was aware of that. But I learned one important thing about stress and life in general – I realised that all the small things I had ignored matter the most. Like, skipping short breaks, enjoying a cup of coffee, closing your eyes and forgetting everything for a moment, or looking at the flickering candle. Decorating my workspace was of crucial importance for my productivity because when I stopped feeling like I despised every second of my shift, I could focus on other things as well. I challenged myself to be the best I could be, to test my own abilities and see how productive I could become. I chose to be curious and explore myself. Most of the time, we cannot change the facts, but we forget we have control over our reactions and, in this case working environment. I learned that sometimes, the smallest change could refresh my point of view and help me see the situation from a completely new angle. When I feel refreshed, there is no room for stress. That is how I motivate myself to grow and learn.
Even now, when I have the job I have always wanted, I try to make my environment the best possible place on Earth. Sometimes, it seems that even the hours pass by more quickly. Some people say that ‘hygge’ is a form of consciousness – being present and recognising the moment and fully experiencing it. It’s a kind of mindfulness that helps us slow down and acknowledge all the little things that put a smile on our faces.
I have once heard something that resonates with me very often – the burn-out happens not when you are doing too many things at once but when you are not doing enough enjoyable things. I completely agree with that.
The Danish culture appreciates ‘hygge’ so much because that concept helped them cope with their dark and harsh winter, boredom, and gloomy and mundane routine. And it still does. So, imagine how much more would we enjoy working if we could think of only one simple activity or a kind of decoration that put us in a good mood.
Try to think of something you could include in your workday that would push you to be more productive and content at work. It doesn’t have to be anything new that you introduce. It could simply be an effortless action that you look forward to, like brewing coffee for your break. Remember, it’s all about being aware of the good moment while experiencing it. Once I started doing it regularly, my mind automatically started looking for enjoyable things wherever I went.
How does your hygge office look and what makes your day? Focus on the good things that encourage you to do your best, and have a cosy day!