Hygge is a state of being: It can help us to quiet that inner voice nagging us to do more and have more.

 

Stuck in the cycle of DO>HAVE>BE
Over and over again I meet people who seem to have it all (husband, kids, good job) and yet are just not happy. They are stuck in in the cycle of trying to figure out what to do in order to have the right stuff to be. At the same time (no coincidence!) I’m hearing more tales of depression, anxiety and a general feeling of bleakness about life. These people worked so hard to be successful, scaling professional and personal heights only to reach a dismaying sense of anticlimax. The more they consume, the more empty they feel inside. “Is that all there is?” as Peggy Lee sang.

 

Full disclosure: It’s something I struggle with daily. Mathematically, I can see that by any objective measure that I have “enough”—and yet in my gut I still feel a lack. My rational brain knows that what I really lack is more downtime, free time, white space, joy, sparkle and laughter in my days. But there’s a competing voice, constantly urging me to do the opposite—to work harder, to accomplish or do more. I think the Eastern mystics were onto something when they put being before doing.

 

Using hygge to BE>DO>HAVE
“Ours is to do our best, and let the outcomes unfold as they will.” This timeless Hindu proverb, taught to me by my dad, beautifully captures the wisdom of starting out with how you want to be in this world, and to let that guide what you want to do, resulting in whatever you were intended to have. This ancient way of thinking completely turns our “do>have>be” conditioning on its head.

 

I think that’s why “hygge” resonates with me as a phenomenon. By honoring life’s small, authentic joys, allowing them to nourish my soul, I’m better able to override my default “doing” mode that throws me into the miserable do>have>be cycle. Like savoring an artfully prepared coffee, or enjoying the start of a Vinyasa Flow yoga class when all the students share a collective “Om,” or when I’m bursting out laughing with my nephews and niece.

 

Savoring life’s “hyggelig” moments 
I’ve long been guided by the three core values of “simplicity, small joys, and financial independence.” Hygge is helping me change my daily actions to bring them more in line with those values. With this new word in my conceptual toolkit, I’m actively noticing and appreciating hyggelig (cozy) moments that were already in my life but which I hadn’t fully honored before: crawling into freshly-washed flannel sheets, slipping into pajamas that are toasty-warm from the dryer, the small act of lighting a candle when I sit down to relax at the end of the day.

 

The coziness that comes with being financially secure
At first glance, financial and spiritual wellbeing can seem like opposing (or at least non-overlapping) spheres. But I brought the two together to create “MoneyZen”—that delightful place where you feel calm, clarity and confidence around both your money and your life.

 

The Buddhist philosophy of Zen is of course quite different to the material comfort implied by hygge—but the goal of both is contentment and wellbeing. Just as I use MoneyZen to help close that gap between money and meaning, “financial hygge” can help to couple wealth with wellbeing.

 

Hygge does assume a certain level of financial independence. Denmark is certainly a wealthy country, yet reportedly happier than the United States. Why is that? Having the kind of financial stability to meet our basic needs probably goes a long way towards allowing us to appreciate those cashmere socks, freshly baked pastries and other soothing things. Yet all too often, in the quest to achieve that financial independence, we go in the other direction and fill our lives with so much “stuff” that we become desensitized to those small hyggelig moments.

 

Hygge takes the focus away from quantity—what you own, how much you earn—and onto quality of life. I think it’s an overripe addition to both our language and our culture.

  

1. “Move Over, Marie Kondo: Make Room for the Hygge Hordes,” The New York Times, December 2016.

  

Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America has sponsored Ask the Expert posts for informational purposes only. Many of the experts are unaffiliated with Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America, College Retirement Equities Fund, and their affiliates and subsidiaries (collectively TIAA), and TIAA makes no representations regarding the accuracy or completeness of any information on the posts or otherwise made available by the experts. Statements of external featured experts are solely their own and are not endorsed or recommended by TIAA.


Responses from experts to questions posed by Woman2Woman community members are intentionally general in nature and are not intended to give personal, financial, or specific advice. Some strategies are complex, and more information is often needed to determine the personal needs of a community member. We strongly recommend that you consult with a financial advisor before taking any action based on an expert’s response or other information you obtain from the Woman2Woman: Financial Living site so that all of your personal circumstances can be taken into consideration. Participation in the site does not render the member a client of the expert or of TIAA.


This site is not designed to accept or respond to requests or complaints regarding specific TIAA accounts, products or services. If you wish to discuss an issue of that nature, please contact TIAA at 800-842-2252. TIAA is not responsible for any opinions provided by members of this site. TIAA is not responsible for the content or privacy policies of third-party sites to which you may link.


Any tax information provided is not intended to be used, and cannot be used, to avoid possible tax penalties. TIAA and its representatives do not offer tax or legal advice. You should consult an independent tax or legal advisor for advice based on your own particular circumstances.

 

The material and responses are for informational or educational purposes only and do not constitute a recommendation or investment advice in connection with a distribution, transfer or rollover, a purchase or sale of securities or other investment property, or the management of securities or other investments, including the development of an investment strategy or retention of an investment manager or advisor. The material and responses do not take into account any specific objectives or circumstances of any particular individual, or suggest any specific course of action. Investment decisions should be made in consultation with an investor’s personal advisor based on the investor’s own objectives and circumstances.


Certain products and services may not be available to all entities or persons.


Investment, insurance and annuity products are not FDIC insured, are not bank guaranteed, are not deposits, are not insured by any federal government agency, are not a condition to any banking service or activity, and may lose value.


Experts may not have medical or scientific training. Any information related to physical or emotional health is not intended to be used in place of a consultation with a physician.


TIAA is not responsible for the statements of community members. We may link to posts made by community members only to direct you to topics that may be of interest to you. This does not mean that we agree with the opinions of these community members. Their statements are solely their own and are not endorsed or recommended by TIAA.


TIAA-CREF Individual & Institutional Services, LLC, Teachers Personal Investors Services, Inc., and Nuveen Securities, LLC, Members FINRA and SIPC, distribute securities products.


© 2017 and prior years, Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America-College Retirement Equities Fund, 730 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017


138804