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Five ways to use ‘Hygge’ to increase happiness at work

09 December 2016

Five ways to use ‘Hygge’ to increase happiness at work


Hygge, the art of enjoying everyday life attributed with making the Danes the happiest nation, has officially become a thing in the UK.

Not only has the word (pronounced ‘hoo-ga’) recently made it into the Collins English Dictionary – defined as the practice of creating cosy and congenial environments that promote emotional wellbeing – but there are no less than nine new books about how to live Hygge being launched this Christmas.

The good news for employers is that happy employees are not only more helpful, engaged and motivated, but also more creative, calmer and less likely to call in sick.

So with all the interest in Hygge this winter, why not use the concept to spread a little happiness and wellbeing across your workforce? To help, here’s our guide to introducing five key principles of Hygge to your workplace.


Five key principles of Hygge for the workplace

Although Hygge has been presented in the media as a cosy way of life, that’s mostly concerned with snuggling under blankets and eating pastries by candlelight with friends and family, it’s much more than that.

It’s a way of life that’s closely aligned to the principles of positive psychology and is as much about being kind to yourself as it is about connecting with others.

So although your health and safety officer might not approve of you encouraging everyone to wear a knitted jumper and light a candle at their desk, there are five key principles of Hygge that are more than safe to bring into the workplace.

Why not encourage employees to try out each principle over the course of a ‘Hygge Day’ that also encourages everyone to come together at the end to share their experiences over a hot chocolate and pastry or two…


1. Focus on the positive

When friends come together to enjoy Hygge, talking about potentially stressful topics, is rare. Instead the focus is on enjoying the positive, something we could all benefit from in the workplace. Not least because being in touch with the positive has also been proven to make more of our intellect available and make us more focused and creative. Unfortunately, we all have an inbuilt negativity bias, which means that even if we’ve successfully achieved seven or eight things, we tend to put all our focus on the one thing we didn’t manage to do. The result is that most of us leave work each day feeling overwhelmed and anxious about what we haven’t done, rather than pleased about what we have achieved.

A really powerful, Hygge-inspired, exercise is therefore to encourage employees to make a note of three positive things that have happened at the end of each day, even if this is just a nice conversation they had or getting a seat on the train. You could also ask managers to get everyone to share their highlight of the week whenever they come together for a meeting.

Doing this regularly reprogrammes the brain to start focusing on and looking for the positive, all of which has been proven to not just boost general happiness levels, but also our resilience to the negative effects of stress and anxiety.

By only allowing positive conversation during the long, dark winter months, the Danes are in effect protecting and defending themselves from feeling down by instead celebrating the reasons that exist to feel happy and joyful. Something we could all benefit from in the workplace from time to time!


2. Be kind to yourself

Instead of constantly chasing achievement, Hygge is about taking time for yourself to create a sense of personal contentment. Whether it’s fully disconnecting from work once you leave the office, so you can fully enjoy the respite that provides, taking a proper lunch hour or rewarding yourself with a proper break after completing a task, so that you can switch off and recharge, or do something you enjoy for ten minutes.

For your Hygge Day, why not encourage employees to be kind to themselves by rewarding themselves with a proper break after completing each task or going home on time so they can fully recharge with friends or family?

Obviously that’s easier said than done with our busy lives and overwork culture, so you might need to give them ‘permission’ to be kind to themselves in this way by asking leaders across the organisation to role-play positive behaviours, such as leaving work on time and not reconnecting via email until the next morning. You could also run a competition that rewards the best examples of employees being kind to themselves, such as giving themselves an achievable deadline, instead of pushing themselves past their personal limits.

Note, Hygge isn’t about overindulgence or slacking off, but treating yourself well by not punishing yourself. The focus is on being kind and fair to yourself, and others. Treating yourself and your colleagues as a good friend would.


3. Live in the moment

Constant multi-tasking has become a way of life, but a major principle of Hygge is about living fully in the moment, a concept we also know as mindfulness. If you were to undertake a mindfulness course one thing you might be asked to do is the ‘raisin exercise’ which involves looking at a raisin for 2-3 minutes, so that you can really take in its texture and roughness and colour, before putting it in your mouth, moving it around and slowly eating it over a 10 minute period, to get the full depth of experience.

Hygge encourages us to relish each moment in the same way, which has been proven time and time again to be incredibly beneficial to our wellbeing. This is particularly difficult to do at work because of the way in which we’re constantly exposed to distractions, be it the constant flow of emails, interruptions from colleagues or clients who want immediate answers to things that could perhaps wait or the experience of bolting our food, without really tasting it, because we’re glued to our computers at the same time.

If you only want to embrace one principle of Hygge, this is it. So why not invite employees to give up multi-tasking for the day by immersing themselves in just one activity at a time? Include getting them to resist the urge to constantly check emails by switching off their email auto-alert for the day.


4. Find meaning

Another fundamental aspect of Hygge is about boosting energy levels by focusing on doing the things that you really enjoy.

Although we might not be able to access all the things we love doing while we’re at work, we can find more meaning in our work by thinking about which activities light us up because they connect with our personal and emotional values in some way. Be that the desire to share knowledge, make things fair or support others.

Encourage employees to think about which parts of their jobs give them the most satisfaction and energy and ask them if there are more ways for them to do things that connect with their underlying values. This isn’t just good for their mental health, it’s also good for the business. Research by the Corporate Executive Board, a member based advisory company, shows an emphasis on strengths in appraisals is linked to a 36 per cent improvement in performance, whereas an emphasis on weaknesses is linked to a 27 per cent decline.

As the Danes know, the simple fact is we’re more motivated, energised and likely to succeed when we focus on the things that we’re naturally gifted at and want to do, than when we try to force ourselves to do things we don’t really enjoy.


5. Connect with others

Humans are built to be social. It’s when we grow isolated from others that we get into trouble and become much more likely to experience low mood.

Although some people might argue that snuggling under a blanket and watching a box set with a hot chocolate all by yourself is staying true to the concept of Hygge - because you’re creating a cosy environment and being kind to yourself - most believe true Hygge is about people coming together to share an experience.

While snuggling under blankets together might be a stretch too far for some colleagues, there’s much more that employers can do to encourage employees to come together, from creating shared spaces for eating together – instead of in isolation at our desks – to rewarding people for helping and supporting each other. Some employers are even going so far as to hold days where employees are encouraged to carry out random acts of kindness for each other, such as making a cup of tea for someone outside their normal tea round, to sharing their skill set with someone needing help in another part of the business.

The more we reach out to each other and connect with each other, the happier and more resilient we become to the effects of stress and trauma. Plus, the more we collectively show kindness to one another, the more inclined we become to want to show kindness to one another. That’s because the positive feelings generated release an endorphin that switches on the caring side of the brain. All of which makes it easier for us to live all the other principles of Hygge as well!


If you would like help to put any of the ideas from this article into practice, please talk to your customer relationship manager.