For over 40 years in a row, Denmark has been voted as one of the happiest countriesin the world. During this month’s Democratic primary debate, candidate Bernie Sanders said, “We should look to countries like Denmark” if we wanted the US to become a happier place—a comment that triggered fierce debate about Denmark’s public policies.
What is the secret to the emotional success of this small Northern European country? In our new book The Danish Way of Parenting: A Guide To Raising The Happiest Kids in the World, I explore this question with my co-author, Danish psychotherapist Iben Sandahl. At least part of the answer lies with the Danish way of “hygge”—pronounced “hooga.”
The word dates back to the 19th century. It is derived from the Germanic word hyggja, which means to think or feel satisfied. There are no exact translations of hygge but some attempts are “cozy” or “homey”—words that do little to encompass the full spectrum of what it is.
Hygge is essentially drama-free togetherness time. It is cozying around or “at hygge sig,” but more than that, it is being aware that that cozy time is sacred—and treating it as such. Because Danes see hygge as such a fundamental aspect of good living, they all work together to make it happen. Hygge is “we time,” not “me time”
Hygge is considered such a powerful factor in Danish happiness that some universities in the UK and the US have started offering courses on it. Many think it is about lighting candles, preparing good food, and creating a nice atmosphere. But this is only the surface aspect of hygge. The truth is, it is so much deeper than that.
So what is hygge exactly?
Try to imagine going to a drama-free family gathering. There are no divisive discussions about politics, family issues, or Aunt Jenny’s dysfunctional kids. No snide comments, complaining, or heavy negativity. Everyone helps out, so that not one person gets stuck doing all the work. No one brags, attacks anyone, or competes with another. It is a light-hearted, balanced interaction that is focused on enjoying the moment, the food, and the company. In short, a shelter from the outside world.
For some, that may sound normal for family gatherings. For most of us, it isn’t.
Photo: Moyan Brenn (CC-BY-20)
These unspoken rules of hygge are precisely what make it so special. American anthropologists who have studied Danish hygge have been struck by the effortless flow in hyggelig interactions and how no one tries to take center stage. It is a moment in time where everyone takes off their masks and leaves difficulties at the door, in order to appreciate the power of presence with others.
There are mountains of research to support how importantsocial ties are for well-being. Feeling connected to others gives meaning and purpose to all of our lives. Social ties can increase longevity, reduce stress, and even boost our immune system. By dedicating specific time to “hygge” we can create a safe space for families and friends to be together without stress. However, it takes everyone wanting this and working together to achieve it.
Researchers also find that Denmark’s egalitarianism plays an important role. For example, a 2009 study by Robert Biswas-Diener and colleagues found that while rich Americans and Danes were equally happy, what really made the difference is that low-income Danes were much, much happier than their American counterparts. This is consistent with findings that high levels of equality translate into happier societies. Unsurprisingly, egalitarianism is also a core value of hygge,according to anthropologists. In this way, perhaps, the rules governing private life in Denmark translate into the kind of public gains cited by Bernie Sanders.
Here are five rules for hygge—some of which you may want to apply to your own life.
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1. Come as you are. Be yourself. Your real self. Let your guard down. You won’t be attacked on hygge turf and you won’t attack in turn. When we strip ourselves of trying to prove something we can all connect in a much more real way. Competition, boasting, and pretense are not bonding, but rather subtly dividing.
2. Forget the controversy. If your topic is too serious, divisive or controversial, it probably isn’t hyggeligt, Hygge is about a balanced ebb and flow of discussion in a lighthearted way. The focus is on the moment and being in the moment. We have plenty of time in our everyday lives to argue and debate and experience drama but hygge is about enjoying the food, the company and not getting caught up in things that take away from that. Thus, complaining, heavy negativity, judging and arguing are not allowed in the hygge space.
3. Think of yourself as a team member. Everyone sees what he or she can do to contribute, without being asked. This makes the whole team flow better and no one gets stuck doing all the work. When everyone works together in preparing, serving, pouring, and conversing, then hygge is in full bloom. But everyone has to understand that they are part of that team.
4. See hygge as a shelter from the outside. Hygge time is about providing a temporary shelter from social climbing, networking, competition, and materialism. A place where everyone can relax and open their hearts without judging, no matter what is going on in their life. For better or for worse, this place is sacred and problems can be left outside. This is special because it allows for families and friends to always be able to connect in this space without fear of judgment.
5. Remember it is time limited. Making hygge can be challenging for a non-Dane. No one taking center stage, no one bragging or complaining, no one being too negative and everyone trying to be present without arguing? This is hard to do for a lot of families! But the payoff is enormous. It feels incredible to share these drama-free moments with those you care about. If you realize that it is only for a dinner or a lunch or a limited period of time, it makes it much easier to really try and enjoy that moment.
Your problems will be waiting for you outside hygge’s door when you leave. But for a little while they can wait outside for the sake of the something bigger.
Death is as much a part of life as birth. We all know we are heading there, yet Western culture does everything possible to ignore it. Although our mortality is inevitable, we still can’t begin to imagine dying or what happens after we die. The truth is we fear death.
Each year 2.5 million people die in the U.S. Over twenty percent of these deaths are due to cancer. In 2015, over 589,000 Americans will die of cancer and 1,658,370 new cancer cases will be diagnosed. While we can’t change these numbers, we can change the approach to which we come to terms with the inevitable. A New Understanding documents novel research that utilizes psilocybin as the remedy for emotional trauma that comes with a terminal diagnosis.
Witness the story of three individuals that were part of a larger study exploring this unique palliative care technique. The research documented in this film will transform your take on cancer treatment, and deeply empathize with the lasting peace the patients gain. With the convergence of science and spirituality combined with shifting paradigms, the psilocybin research is moving forward quickly with the likelihood that within the next five to six years, this could be a palliative care option approved by the FDA and DEA.
In the New York Times article ‘Hallucinogens have Doctors Tuning in Again’, Dr. Charles Grob describes psilocybin as ‘existential medicine’ that aids people in overcoming fear, anxiety and depression. Grob, who is part of the research team in our documentary, reveals “Individuals transcend [their physical state] and experience ego-free states before the time of their actual physical demise, and return with a new perspective and profound acceptance of the life constant: change.” Our team strongly supports this life-changing research and needs community support to spread this information, and help people find peace with their lives.
Major media is beginning to cover this research, and A New Understanding offers a much closer look at the science and the personal stories of patients. After six years in the making and continuously jumping through bureaucratic hoops to approve research, we offer the world a poignant look the difference this research is making in people’s lives.
The patients documented in A New Understanding had terminal cancer, but we all share the certainty of death. How are we as individuals, and collectively as a society, providing comfort for a life lived? I won’t spoil the ending but I will say this – the healing breakthroughs in this documentary will surprise you!
“When administered under supportive conditions, psilocybin occasioned experiences similar to spontaneously occurring mystical experiences.”
Our mission is to bring this modern knowledge to the people who are seeking answers to new ways of being – while at the same time, honoring the confluence of science and spirituality for an emerging new paradigm on dying.
If you were moved by A New Understanding and want to share its message with family and friends, we are offering the HD download and lifetime access to the entire collection of footage produced for this documentary. Plus they both come with a bunch of great bonuses AND a portion of the proceeds support future research. Sign up below to get access to your free screening today!
Do you have a fear of spiders? Maybe snakes? It could be your ancestors trying to tell you something. Recent studies have provided evidence that memories of fear are one of many things our forebearers pass down to us through our DNA.
A 2013 study from Emory University found that mice trained to fear a specific odor would pass their emotions on to their offspring and future generations. Scientists applied electric shocks to mice as they exposed them to the smell of cherry blossoms. The mice then bred, and both the children and grandchildren of the affected rodents demonstrated a fear of cherry blossoms the first time they smelled them.
“Our results allow us to appreciate how the experiences of a parent, before even conceiving offspring, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations,” Dr. Brian Dias of the Emory University department of psychiatry said to theDaily Telegraph. “Such a phenomenon may contribute to the etiology and potential intergenerational transmission of risk for neuropsychiatric disorders such as phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
The study went beyond just observing a fear reaction. Scientists actually looked at the brains of the animals and found physical changes in the areas that process odors, and also found a marker on the odor gene of the mouse DNA.
The experiment worked even when the researchers used artificial insemination in place of allowing the mice to breed naturally. The scientists still aren’t sure how the fear imprint makes it into the sperm — whether the smell itself passes through the blood, or the brain processes the odor and sends its own signal.
“It is high time public health researchers took human transgenerational responses seriously,” Prof Marcus Pembrey, from University College London saidto the BBC. “I suspect we will not understand the rise in neuropsychiatric disorders or obesity, diabetes and metabolic disruptions generally without taking a multigenerational approach.”
Humans have long sought to understand memory and heredity, nature vs. nurture and how much information parents actually transmit to their children. The nature study is another step toward answering our questions about exactly what, and how much of our forebearers’ experiences get passed down through DNA.
There is already a growing body of research about how humans and other animals inherit fear from their ancestors. A study published in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 found that primates’ brains are uniquely tuned to recognize snakes, suggesting that we gained an innate fear of the reptiles over the course of our evolutionary development. A 2011 study in Current Directions in Psychological Science found that human infants aren’t necessarily afraid of snakes from birth, but they learn to fear them more quickly than they learn to fear other more innocuous stimuli like flowers and rabbits.
“What we’re suggesting is that we have these biases to detect things like snakes and spiders really quickly, and to associate them with things that are yucky or bad, like a fearful voice,” study co-author Vanessa LoBue of Rutgers University said in a press release. The research built on previous work by LoBue and her team that showed that people were able to identify snakes and spiders more quickly than other animals and objects. There’s even evidence that primates actually developed large brains and keen eyesight as a defense measure to avoid falling prey to snakes.
Another study found that unborn crickets whose mothers were stalked by wolf spiders showed more fear of spiders after they were born than control crickets — not to mention a higher survival rate. At this point there’s little doubt that fear gets passed down through the generations — now we’re learning about how.
Rewriting The DNA
Fear isn’t the only thing that gets imprinted in our genes. Recent breakthroughs have made big strides in understanding epigenetics — how our DNA gets changed by environmental factors. A studypublished in 2013 revealed details about how certain aspects of DNA can be turned on or turned off, and therefore passed on to offspring or not. A report last year found that Crohn’s disease can cause epigenetic changes in people who suffer from it. And scientists were able to edit the DNA of mice to cure them of an inheritable liver disease — with hope that the same process would work in humans.
Other researchers are working on how to encode DNA with specific information. A study led by synthetic biologist Timothy Lu of MIT and published in Science in 2014 found a way to rewrite living DNA in a cell and watch as the altered information was transferred to new cells. The researchers changed cells to make them sense light and react to other stimuli. Next, they hope to use the technology to make a recording of the cell’s environment for study, such as placing the cells in water for a week and then testing them for toxins.
Other scientists have managed to etchthe equivalent of a megabyte worth of data onto DNA, and then read it back. Both studies are more geared toward gathering and storing information, but the more we learn about how to change DNA, the possibility looms that we could learn how memories are implanted — and someday even artificially create hereditary memories, if scientific interest and ethics allowed such an outcome.
Beyond The Physical Realm
The idea of memories being written into DNA could provoke speculation about phenomenon like visions of past lives, although it might be a leap to go from a reaction to odor to the recall of specific and discrete memories.
Polish Professor of Pedogogy Andrzej Szyszko-Bohusz has worked since the 1960s to promote a theory of genetic immortality in which parental consciousness is transmitted to children along with DNA and other hereditary information. More recently, University of Virginia (UVA) professor Jim Tucker hypothesizes that consciousness needs no physical binding at all to pass on. Tucker, who studies children who have memories of past lives, claims that quantum physics suggests that our physical world is created by our consciousness. Therefore, consciousness doesn’t need the world, let alone a brain, to exist, and could simply affix itself to a new brain once it passes out of a dying one.
“I understand the leap it takes to conclude there is something beyond what we can see and touch,” Tucker said to UVA Magazine. “But there is this evidence here that needs to be accounted for, and when we look at these cases carefully, some sort of carry-over of memories often makes the most sense.”
He calls it the science of reincarnation. Whether he is on the right track, or we discover that memories are passed down by DNA all along, or there is some other mechanism we don’t know about yet, is still to be determined.