Why The ‘Hygge’ Are We So Stressed?!


I’ve noticed a growing trend in advertising over the last few years (you know advertising; those people who tell us what sort of lifestyle we should have in order to be happy? Yep, them.)  Last night I watched a new car ad, whose marketing department decided they needed to target women.  So they told the story of a young, successful woman who began her day by deep-sea diving (as you do), then drove to work where she spent a ‘hectic’ day at the office making extremely important decisions and telling mostly men what to do, followed by a night out at some pretentious venue where she picks up a total randomer (shags him, we assume) and arrives home at sleepy o’clock in her shiny new car.  After a jam-packed day that left me feeling exhausted just watching her, she assures us in a breathy voice that she wouldn’t have it any other way – ominously implying that she will do the same thing again tomorrow.

This was swiftly followed by an ad for mascara, where an angry-looking young woman is out-running some male secret agents while looking FLAWLESS.  The voice over artist tells us that her mascara is UNSTOPPABLE, while the pristine model runs away in impossibly high heels.  This is followed by an ad for make-up that is INFALLIBLE!!  And I’m sitting on my couch thinking, what?  What’s the message here?  Expect more, don’t relax, be busy, seek perfection, ACHIEVE, keep moving, life is a battle and we need to fight it head on, whilst remaining impeccably groomed and loving every f&*king minute of it!!!

And these were the ads for women without kids.  I can only imagine that the car ad for mothers would involve her literally juggling three kids in the air whilst steering the car with her foot and preparing an eco-friendly meal in the glove compartment.  Because as well all know ladies, you can have it all.  But do you really want it?

Conversely, we are all lurching from one ‘get relaxed quick’ scheme to another.  The publishing industry enjoyed an unexpected boom last year from sales of adult colouring books – the hangover from the previous year’s attempt to introduce us all to mindfulness (which nobody really understood).  ‘Just be in the moment!’  it proclaimed.  Something that easy shouldn’t require any effort, and we all sat there in the lotus position wondering how long it would take to be mindful.  Is it happening yet?  Am I relaxed??  This year it’s Hygge.  As if we need the Danes to tell us how to light a few candles and chill the f@%k out (sorry for all the expletives!)  Don’t we know how to do this without having to buy a bloody book about it?  Clearly not.  We have lost our ability to just BE.  And every marketing department the world over is taking advantage of it.  They’re selling us the cause and the cure.

I recently had a chat with my sister about something I saw on Twitter (which she hadn’t read) and she went on to explain that there just wasn’t time for all of the information that kept coming at her.  By the time you’ve followed the link and flicked through 800 different opinions about the thing and eventually tried to form your own, the world has moved on to the next thing, with more information and it’s just never ending!!  Social media has us worked up into a frenzy over issues that we really have no control over, so our rage and sense of injustice has nowhere to go.  There is no practical outlet for us to affect change on the world around us, so we just tweet our frustrations away.  I don’t really know when all of this change happened.  I suppose every generation bemoans the next, but wasn’t it better when we had more time to just flop about and naval gaze for a while, without feeling guilty about it?  Is reaching for our phones every two seconds a way of distracting ourselves or deluding ourselves into believing that we’re doing something.. anything?  I was starting to wonder if this was just the general malaise of being a grown up, but then I read a great post by Misha Kahn’s  called ‘When are you going to be enough for yourself?’  I think she really hits the nail on the head of our ‘be busy’ culture with this thought:

I started to believe that if I wasn’t being productive, I was failing.

Is this how ‘they’ want us to feel?  Are we somehow being programmed to work harder, better, faster, stronger, with the only watchman being our own guilty conscience?  I’m no conspiracy theorist (am I?) yet I can’t help but wonder if this ideal of being an over-achiever is eroding our natural state of being?  After all, we are human beings, not human doings.  Yet the first thing people ask when they meet you is ‘What do you do?’  An author friend of mind just published a book and I was alarmed to see how many people barked the words, ‘Have you written the next one  yet?’  I mean, back off people, just enjoy the moment.  Like the annoying kid at school who scribbled furiously on their test paper while you sat there doodling, some people can’t wait to make you feel unproductive (the horror!), or worse, rub their productivity in your face.  Ewwww!

It’s a long time since I first read Tom Hodgkinson’s book How To Be Free  and while he may not have all the answers, his suggestion of painting murals on the ceiling so we can spend more time looking at it, isn’t the worst I’ve heard!  His mission is to bring back the days of merriment and self-sufficiency and really, who can argue with that?

‘Tom shows that consumer society has led not to a widening of freedoms but to the opposite and that the key to a free life is to stop consuming and start producing.’

It’s true, modern life has turned us into willing slaves of our screens so we are constantly switched on.  Even during our recreation time, we are still consuming because that’s what we’re told to do through these types of aspirational lifestyle marketing campaigns.  Check out Tom’s website ‘The Idler’ where you can connect with people who aren’t shackled by this notion of ‘performance guilt’ for want of a better term.  Life isn’t all about working hard and partying hard, which again, sounds like more work!  I’ve always felt that statement implies that you don’t deserve to have fun unless you’ve slogged your guts out working.  We could all use a little anarchy, especially when we are being brainwashed into finding happiness at the shopping mall or salvation in over-achievement.  Maybe, just maybe, our achievements do not define us and happiness is really about finding pleasure in the simple, everyday things that cannot be measured, bought or sold.


17 thoughts on “Why The ‘Hygge’ Are We So Stressed?!

  1. I hear ya, sistaaa! The problem, of course, is that we don’t have enough ‘real’ stuff to worry about. We’re safe, we’re warm, clohtes, (over) fed, have great health and a gadget to do most everything. A few of hundred years ago our days were taken up with simply keeping alive – keeping clean, safe from danger, housed, fed, making food from scratch, growing it in the first place. There is less industry because robots have taken the place of so much, so people try to sell luxury items (which includes self-help books telling you how to be happy), and the competition is enormous, so everyone has to make out like their product has the only answer. Guilt is a great salesman (yes, you’re right, especially how the population has its mind manipulated).

    The ‘Having It All’ myth is so 1980s, now – I thought that trend went away in the 90s, but apparently not – there is a new generation to sell to! I don’t know what Hygge is and don’t want to know, to be honest… and total happiness isn’t a RIGHT. I remember a friend of mine saying to another who was complaining about ‘stress’: “Stress? You don’t know what the word means. You’re a little bit busier than you’d like, through your own lifestyle choices, that’s all. Try sitting in a trench in the 1st World War. That’s stress’.

    Aside from this, happiness comes from appreciating the small things in life and wanting what you have, not buying a load of STUFF. And I’m with you on the ‘too much information’ everywhere. Sometimes people tell me about something and say ‘I’ll send you a link’. I want to say (and sometimes do), no, please don’t. Sorry, my comment is nearly as long as your excellent article, so I’ll stop!

    1. Terry, I think you SHOULD have written the article!! You’re so right, surviving was enough to be getting on with (and still is!) and it is our own lifestyle choices that dictate our quality of life and our experience of it. It’s just that it can feel like there is no choice, or that we didnt make it (consciously) so we end up wondering how we got here. This is not my beautiful house! Anyway, so glad you responded so eloquently – it’s an important conversations to have 🙂

  2. I think the world is going back to the time when to survive was enough. If we look at the way we are being denuded of everything by our governments: the decline of free healthcare, the rise in homelessness and family poverty, the unemployment and especially, the ruthless exploitation by the rightwing parties in the UK and (potentially) in the US, we will soon be too busy trying to survive day today to be stressed.

    1. Good point Carol, I sometimes feel as though the proletariat is sleep-walking while all of this corruption is going on behind our backs. You only have to look at the recent CETA deal to know that ‘they’ prefer it when we don’t ask questions, or better yet, they don’t want us to know anything at all. Five years they spent negotiating that deal in secret – so much for democracy! I hope social media will use its powers for good and wake us all up to the fact that we can choose a different path – instead of distracting us with an endless cycle of preying on our insecurities and then supplying us with the cure… which doesn’t work!

  3. In the end I think it is all about choices. The social media exists, but we can choose to tune it our or not participate. The commercials exist but we can also choose to tune them out. No one will hold a gun to our heads and force us to participate haha!

    Guilt is a powerful tool, but humankind must become wise enough to not fall victim to guilt.

    1. Very well said Christine, I have the most clued-in readers online! And the idea of not allowing yourself to become a victim to someone else’s idea of success or failure is a really powerful one.

    2. That’s what I think, too. We can choose how much we’re affected by all the crap. Similarly, when people go on about all the rubbish on Twitter, my answer is, don’t partake in it, then. Don’t follow people who spam and post rubbish. I find Facebook tedious because I get fed up with the suggested pages to ‘like’ and the endless photos of people’s sunny holidays and kids. So I only go on there a couple of times a week. I don’t watch network TV because I can’t stand the adverts. It’s all optional. 🙂

      1. Here, here. These aspirational lifestyle campaigns offer a very narrow view of what it means to be happy, successful or even human! As much as we can see through them on a cognitive level, the constant bombardment of what the ‘ideal’ is can be so insidious, the best solution is to just switch off!

  4. I think possibly the reason why advertising is so effective and yet so destructive is that we are always being persuaded that it’s ok to be self centred or to indulge our own desires, After all who is going to pay for the ads that would encourage us to take the harder route, to not buy the things we don’t need as we are enough without them. Discontent is in the heart of all of us but unfortunately, to try and fill the gap, we look to the things that don’t satisfy. The wisdom comes then from recognising and taking hold of that which will, those things that are not for sale and unsellable!

    1. So eloquently put Liberty 🙂 I think I should just hand my blog over to you guys!! Such collective wisdom here, it’s really encouraging and I’m so glad you’ve all responded. That’s a very interesting point – this idea that we have an inherent right to happiness. If we work hard enough, if we’re ‘good enough’, we should be happy. Maybe that’s the problem right there; the pressure to be happy and if you’re not, you’re obviously doing something wrong (or you haven’t bought the right car). I’m fascinated by Jacques Lacan’s theory of desire, in that first we desire recognition from the ‘other’, but secondly, we desire for what we believe the ‘other’ desires. In other words, our desires are not our own, they are other’s. I guess we just want to be what we think other people will admire, that’s our Achille’s heel. But you’re right, awareness and wisdom are the keys to knowing the difference.

  5. You should absolutely not hand your blog over to anyone, you expressed your thoughts perfectly! I wrote something about being vs doing a few months ago but when I look at it now I cringe at the clumsy way I tried to say what was on my mind. On another point you raised, I do think that drive within us to be productive is undeniably strong and for me can be a real burden at times. It is so hard to strike a balance between work and rest (i.e. feeling overwhelmed vs lazy!). That’s something that I have been mulling over for quite some time, I still can’t get it right.

    1. You’re so kind, thank you 🙂 It’s lovely to hear everybody’s thoughts on REAL things that matter. I love that comparison – work/rest, overwhelmed/lazy!! I recently read a Lao Tzu quote, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished”. I might have to get it tattooed somewhere though, because I instantly forgot it :))

  6. Great article – I’m not going to get too political and start talking about overpopulation, which seems to underlie so many of our concerns. And it’s easy to blame capitalism, but it has improved quality of life beyond compare, and certainly other political doctrines, which dint work. But, of course that’s not to say without a cost. As to Hygge. It’s the breath from your mouth as you unwrap your scarf coming in from a long country walk. The sort of thing that comes free regardless of class or race. We’re all so chained to our devices that we feel depleted if not plugged in (he says as typing into his laptop!)

    1. See now that just makes Hygge sound lovely – anything with a scarf and I’m in! The sad part is that we’ve lost our natural ability to appreciate the simple things, or maybe we just don’t have/make the time. Pity they don’t make ads with people reading a good hardback in front of a warm fire, saying ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way’

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