By Emily Morrison
This is a hard time of year to be a Mainer. For those of us fortunate enough to experience the beauty of Maine summers, we must also endure the brutality of winters. Because of our occasionally unfriendly climé, in recent years the Danish concept of hygge, or creating a warm atmosphere, has received a lot of hype in our corner of the world.
But it’s not the only cozy living philosophy folks around here could benefit from.
If you’re interested in making your winter a little warmer, take a look at these lesser known but equally effective ways to flourish while staying home this cold season.
Ikigai, pronounced “ik-kee-gai,” is a Japanese concept that roughly translates to “one’s reason for living.” It’s the purpose behind your waking, the motivation behind your desire for success, the balance you’re searching for in life. Studies have shown that those who have a clear idea of their ikigai generally live longer, happier lives.
So how can you find your ikigai? By doing some soul-searching and answering the following questions: What do I absolutely love? What are my strengths? How can I make money doing it? What does the world need more of?
The trick to finding one’s ikigai comes down to finding what all of your responses have in common. For instance, if you love cooking, chances are you’re probably pretty good in the kitchen. And if you can make money and feed people while you’re at it, perhaps you should consider a career in the culinary arts.
Finding common ground between these four cornerstones — passion, mission, profession, and vocation — will help you find your ikigai. It’s also important to note that one’s ikigai may change over time. Just as people evolve over the course of their lives, so does their ikigai. Also worth mentioning, your ikigai can only be fulfilled if others can benefit from it — not just yourself.
Lagom, pronounced “la-gum,” means “to live simply.” This concept originally hails from Sweden. In fact, Sweden is known as one of the happiest countries in the world, possibly because its inhabitants practice lagom, or balance. For those familiar with the children’s story “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” this idea is also known as the Goldilocks Principle — having not too much, not too little, but just enough.
In our physical and virtual world today, we are surrounded by material possessions, late night infomercials, Snapchat, Netflix, miracle beauty products and many more distractions. Because of these competing focuses for our attention, our perspective can become clouded. Finding lagom, means returning to a peaceful, easy lifestyle that helps us feel calm. There is a time for work and a time for play and those who practice lagom are able to balance both of these competing impulses in their lives.
Practical ways you can find lagom in your life go back to living simply. Take breaks when you need them. Spend as much time listening as you do talking. Perform unexpected acts of kindness. When life feels like it’s flying by at 90 mph, slow the pace. Spend time outside.
Really, get out and enjoy nature. The Swedish take their outdoor time very seriously.
Go through your possessions and donate what you don’t need. Don’t let your things own you, or become preoccupied by constantly acquiring more of them. Lastly, give what you don’t need back to the community.
Gezellig, pronounced “heh-sell-ick,” is a term the lovely people of Amsterdam use to refer to the “sociable, cozy culture of their city.” There isn’t a one-for-one direct translation of gezellig into English because it’s a concept that encompasses many feelings: comfort, love, togetherness, coziness, hominess, snuggliness and joy. Overall, sharing gezellig means sharing a moment of comfort and happiness with others.
The Dutch, like most of us, really enjoy all forms of gezellig. Who doesn’t appreciate feeling comfy-cozy after sharing a hot meal, a warm drink or a fun social event with others? In its truest sense, gezellig is meant to be a communal experience. How has Amsterdam become synonymous with this feeling? Because this city abounds with cheerful boutiques, cozy restaurants, sumptuous greenhouses, sunny canals, historic bridges and gorgeous museums.
But you don’t have to travel 4,639 miles to experience this feeling.
You can feel gezellig while sitting in your own living room enjoying festive New Year’s Eve decor, Valentine’s Day candles or even your Super Bowl snack platter. Share a strong cup of coffee, cider or cocoa with your family and watch your all-time favorite movie classics together. String up those colorful lights, the bigger the better, place some items of sentimental value throughout your home and enjoy the splendor of your own personal Amsterdam.
Friluftsliv, pronounced “free-loofts-live,” literally translates to “free air life.” Although this term was first introduced to the world through famous Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1859, the notion of being one with nature has been part of Norwegian culture for centuries.
No matter one’s age or the weather, exploring the great outdoors is a way of life in Norway, which according to the 2020 World Happiness Report ranks as one of the top five happiest countries in the world. (No. 5) In fact, many Norwegian high schools offer friluftsliv classes where students are routinely encouraged to do more than study nature — they’re allowed to go out and have adventures in it. Also, many Norwegian companies encourage their employees to participate in a friluftsliv program where they spend a minimum of 90 minutes outside a week to decrease stress and improve mental health.
While some Americans definitely appreciate the outdoors, the U.S. is currently ranked No.18 on the World Happiness Report. Could our inactive lifestyle and disconnect from nature have something to do with our malaise? Perhaps scheduling time for a walk, hike, snowshoe trek, ice fishing expedition, ski day, sleigh ride or other winter fun into our school or work day could help us reprioritize friluftsliv in our lives. If you’re serious about practicing friluftsliv, you won’t let little things like negative windchill, heavy snowfall and black ice stop you. You can layer your long johns, bring a thermos and wear an extra set of wool socks to commune with Mother Nature all winter long.
At the end of the day, finding ways to make the winter of our discontent more pleasant comes down to opening ourselves up to the present moment, to the very real time and place we’re living in. As a country, we have just survived one of the most brutal years in history. Our economy is hurting. Our citizens are politically divided. Our healthcare system is teetering. Our mission for equality is crucial. And our death toll keeps rising.
Taking opportunities to stay socially, emotionally, mentally and physically healthy is priority number one for everyone right now.
Embracing ikigai, our reason for living, helps us center our lives around our greater purpose. Finding lagom, our balance, encourages us to remember what’s truly important in life and what’s not. Sharing gezellig, a moment of comfort with others, reminds us of the happiness we feel when we’re together. And enjoying friluftsliv, the outdoors, allows us to reconnect with ourselves and our world simultaneously.
Whether we commit to following all of these practices at once, or try them out one at a time, the beauty of adopting a new living philosophy is in our intention to continue finding beauty in life and in each other.
This first appeared in the January/February issue of Bangor Metro magazine, available on newsstands throughout much of Maine. Bangor Metro is also available by subscription.