Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Hygge and Happiness

PREFACE: When I wrote this post, I was still rather depressed, so I'm glad the grumpy wifi wouldn't let me publish. After a day's reflection, I saw what the central problem was. See Afterward for that.
I spend forty hours of the week grappling with politics and scandals, civil and church, and at least seven hours reading Polish, so the rest of the time I try to read as widely as possible. This weekend I had a lot of reading opportunity as my parents were here, and when the adult members of my family are together in one room, we tend not to play board games. We tend to read. 

So yesterday I was greatly amused by Escape Everything, which is about escaping the rat race to do what you like, which I first did over fifteen years ago, albeit without thinking much about the economics of it all. Escape Everything delves into the economics, dancing a tarantella on consumerism while I applauded. It also forbids the reader from getting a mortgage, to which I could only sigh, having only just got one. Escape Everything enjoys the freedom of renting, as mobility is one of its primary values, and doesn't have much to say about old age.

When I had finished chortling over Escape Everything, which shored up my anti-consumerism beliefs and even inspired me to give up daily coffee (gradually),  I picked up The Little Book of Hygge: the Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking. 

I didn't buy the hygge (pron. 'hoo-geh') books when they first snowed down upon the bookshops, for they were expensive, and I settled down to The Little Book feeling smug and snug, for I had borrowed it for free from the library. To my dismay, as I read about Danish lamps, warming drinks, bonfires on the beach, December weather, etc., etc., I felt sadder and sadder.  Eventually I put the book down and burst into tears. 

I burst into tears becasue central to hygge--a north Germanic sense of hominess (as the book correctly says it is called in Canada)--is spending as much time as possible with family and friends. The top source of happiness, according to Copenhagen's Happiness Research Institute, is spending time with family and friends. People are particularly happy while playing with children. 

So even if you ignored everything in Escape Everything and bought expensive Danish lamps, woolly Danish jumpers, thick Danish socks, made Danish recipes and Christmas decorations and even imported a reindeer hide and had a fireplace put in, if you don't have friends and family around, you have missed the Happiness Nation in the World Express. 

Why this should so upset me after spending a (rare) weekend with my parents is strange. However, it's been a hard week of, e.g., "Humanae Vitae betrayed Casti Connubii by privileging the unitive end of marriage over the procreative end of marriage." It's easy to nod sagely over that if you're married and have kids.  

"Auntie, when you're not here, it's like you don't even exist," said my nephew Pirate, for which he is not to blame, for he was only seven. It was not even true, as I was still writing for his archdiocesan newspaper, and thus an out-of-date photograph of my smiling face appeared in his school library every two weeks. However, it hurt like hell. 

Sending presents can only go so far to maintain a relationship with children. When I was a child, American uncle and grandmother sent interesting brown paper parcels from time to him, but my Canadian grandmother, who lived a 30 minute stroll (if that) away, came to visit every Sunday. She brought cookies--my mother drew the line at candy--wrapped in paper kitchen towel that smelled faintly of cigarette smoke. She didn't play with us--and she rarely babysat ("My Nerves!")--but she was a genial presence in the kitchen, either smoking or washing the dishes and putting them away where my mother couldn't find them. (Or so said my mother.) As a result, my grandmother, who    went through the trouble only of having one child, was adored by five other children. 

I'm really not sure what to do about being thousands of miles away from my family and best friends almost all of the time, if spending as much time with family and friends is really the secret of happiness in earthly life. And when I think about it, I've never met any Danes--presumably because they stay with their family and friends in Denmark. 

However, I understand that there is a great deal of happiness to be found in gardening, and the mortgage will also get us a garden, so there is that.

AFTERWORD: So the central problem, of course, is that I stopped thinking about what we DO have and started thinking about what we DON'T have and, indeed, may never have. Escape Everything is about giving up non-essentials to embrace what you really love. The Little Book of Hygge is about lives entirely unlike mine. I can't imagine what a cloistered nun or a bereaved Syrian refugee, for example, would think of The Little Book of Hygge.

The whole point of the Seraphic Singles blog was to find out, and celebrate, what Singleness had going for it without denigrating marriage or religious life. Now the ongoing challenge, I suppose, is to always appreciate what childlessness and voluntary exile have going for them, without making the mistake of denigrating parenthood, the primary calling of married people, children and family.

There's got to be a middle ground between the dour "Childless spouses are cursed by God" point of view and the imbecilic "Hooray for child-free me".   

One of the nicest things I do have, something that doesn't cost me any money at the moment, is the chance to see whole streets of Georgian architecture, with amazing gardens in ceramic pots down the stairwells to the lower flats. So I'm off now to look at them again. 


  1. Thank you for your afterword! I was an avid reader of Seraphic Singles, and your words comforted me greatly in the time before I met and married my husband. Now we are struggling with infertility. While we are young enough to hope that this may eventually change, it's hard not to be jealous when our friends are having babies, seemingly effortlessly.

    Your suggestion to appreciate what childlessness has going for it makes a lot of sense, but most of the time I can't see any of the positives. If you have any further thoughts on this topic, perhaps you could put them into a blog post or two? I'm sure myself and a lot of other women in a similar boat would greatly appreciate it.

  2. Oh, that is a tough assignment! Tough, tough, tough! But I like challenges, so I will think about it and post on it in the next few days.