How to “Hygge” this Thanksgiving : 5 tips to guarantee more happiness

As featured in Huffington Post

Turkey day is upon us and many of us are fretting over ingredients, travel plans and general excitement and anxiety over seeing the family. While it is lovely to be together for the holidays, most of us know that despite our best intentions, drama could be brewing along with the gravy. It’s easy to get annoyed with family on T-day and post Turkey day gripe sessions are almost as guaranteed as the leftover sandwiches.

But what if there were something to safeguard against Turkey day drama? What if there was a way to avoid collateral damage from chips flying off shoulders, poked and prodded off by family members? Would you try it?

Well, there is. The word is hygge (pronounced hooga). Literally translated, hygge means cozy or homey, but this does little to encompass what it actually means. Denmark, voted as one of the happiest countries in the world for over 40 years in a row, has maintained it’s top status in the world happiness report partly because they are so good at hygge.

Hygge is verb, an adjective, and a mood to be in. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a value. It is valuing drama free time together with your family as sacred. It is creating a psychological safe space. It is valuing connecting in the moment without having to put your guard up. It’s about agreeing that for a limited period of time that everyone will leave their past issues, work stresses, complaining, gossip and negativity at the door. It is turning your phones off and helping out so not one person gets stuck doing all the work. It is working as a team in every sense. It is “we time” not “me time” and it takes a conscious effort to make it work. But it does work! There is nothing children like more than spending harmonious time with their families without drama and hygge creates this.

Here are 5 tips to incorporate hygge this Thanksgiving

Take the hygge oath: Talk about what it is at the very least so that everyone is in agreement to at least try. It is simple but with a little awareness this simple effort has big returns.

  1. Preframe– Try to imagine how you would like Thanksgiving to go and the normal traps you fall into. Political arguments with Uncle Bob? Negative family gossip? Work complaining? Being irritated by your mother in-law? For this time period, you are there to just be, enjoy the moment and the people you love. Prepare yourself for that frame of mind.
  1. Use Empathy-Try to see all the good in the family members who would otherwise irritate you. Try less judging and more tolerance and understanding. We get into bad habits in families where we often focus on the negative or feel upset or offended. We are actually hard wired as humans to do this. It is called the negativity bias and it evolved to protect us from when we were cave men. This vulnerability to feeling threatened or on alert is not protecting us anymore and it can cause more havoc than good, especially in family gatherings. When you understand that a negativity bias exists, it’s easier to be conscious of why we are more attuned to snide comments from family members and try not to focus on them.
  1. Help out-Look for where you can help and encourage others to do the same. Offering to help makes the whole day easier for everyone and allows more of a group feeling.
  1. Reframe Is your mother-in-law about to send you through the roof? Remember the preframing you did in the car and think of your kids. How did you want this day to go? Do your best to focus on what a great grandmother she is, and how much she loves the kids. This is “we time” not “me time”. You can complain outside of hygge. This is a limited time and it is good for wellbeing.
  1. Tell uplifting stories from your past. Still battling about how backwards Uncle Bob sounds? What about that time when you were little and you all had that great time at the beach? How many wonderful memories we all have with our families if we allow ourselves to talk about those? It doesn’t serve us to focus on these things or fall into the same repetitive negative storylines. We can build up a positive family storyline by talking about the good times. This is connecting in the moment and this is the essence of hygge.

Jessica Joelle Alexander

Jessica Joelle Alexander is a bestselling author, Danish parenting expert, columnist, speaker, and cultural researcher. Her work has been featured in TIME, The Atlantic, Salon, NPR, Huffington Post, NY Times and many more. She is the author of 3 books, gives talks and workshops globally, and researches and writes for UC Berkeley's Towards Belonging Institute

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