Finding Hygge | April 6, 2018

Finding Hygge

After spring break, Mrs. Caldwell polled 38 freshmen on moments of friendship. She asked her students to describe either a meaningful conversation or a hygge (hoo-gah) moment with a group of people. Hygge is a Danish word that describes feelings of wellness and contentment with others.

Hygge: (hoo-gah). The Danish ritual of enjoying life's simple pleasures with friends and family. This slow-moving, stress-free mindset values being kind to yourself and treasuring a sense of community.

Interestingly, for more than half of the students their meaningful conversations or hygge moments occurred outside in the natural world. Here are a few of their descriptions.

"It was one of those days where if you were walking you would feel the breeze, but if you stood still the sun blazed down upon you. I was with my family, lying down on a towel, and I was just still. My eyes were closed, but I could hear the sound of the waves crashing and the seagulls squawking. I would also hear the banter going on between my family. Everything was still and good and made me feel at peace."

"My moment of hygge began when our boat approached hundreds of seals bobbing their heads in the water..."

"I experienced hygge with a bunch of people I had known only for 4 days. It was an Outward Bound trip. It rained the entire time, and we were sleeping only under tarps."

"I experienced hygge when we were sitting around our campfire. We just talked, laughed, and danced together. It was the most beautiful place I have ever been."

"My friend, Ryan, and I were fishing in the summer in a metal boat in the middle of a thunder and lightening storm. We didn't catch any fish, but we talked and talked."

"I was in Nandi Hills, India with my mom and grandparents, who I call Nana and Papa, and we were in an open field with a gazebo. My Papa was sitting in a wheel chair and my Nana was walking around getting some exercise. I began walking and talking with her. As my Papa watched us, he said the rosary. The sun was setting. It was an amazing hygge moment for me."

As you can see from the testimony of these freshmen, we human beings are social creatures, and a lot of our happiness comes from simply being with others. We all want to feel a sense of community and a sense of belonging. Each of us appreciates being a part of something larger.

According to the recent United Nations annual World Happiness Report, the happiest countries in the world are Finland, Norway, and Denmark, in that order. Even though Finland has only a few hours of daylight in the winter, and temperatures are below 0 degrees F, the Finns are the happiest people in the world. Researchers say what sets the happiest nations apart is the premiums their cultures place on time in nature and in harmonious, intimate contact with friends and family, also known as hygge. The results of the study suggest that richness for human beings comes from human connection not material possessions.

We can feel a tremendous sense of happiness and peace being with each other in the natural world. But researchers have also shown that we can feel intense connection when we watch a live performance. Our brains like to share emotion with those around us. Researchers found through watching subjects' facial expressions, measuring pulse and brain waves and monitoring fingertip sweat pad devices that positive feelings can be greatly magnified when watching a live performance of music or theater, and this connection certainly happens for the actors and musicians and artists themselves.

Jack Hughes, MBS '17, and brother of Aidan, Sonny and Liam is an experienced bass player, and here he describes one of his most powerful moments of intense connection between human beings:

"We had just run through "White Room" by the supergroup "Cream" when I started to play the riff to "Crossroads," another song on the same album. At first, I was the only one playing, but after I played the riff a few times, Senior Rusnack joined in. Even not knowing the bass part for the song, he followed my lead and used the blues structure of the song to interpret his own way. Immediately following, Mr. Finn and Mr. Donahue joined in with variations of the chords. By the time that Brian Worts (MBS '17) joined us, the groove was set and it was clear something special was happening.

Dr. Mascaro grabbed the microphone and started to sing. He knew every single word to the entire song. As soon as he finished a verse, he glanced at me and in such a subtle communication, the start of an entirely improvised solo began. The aggression of the other guitars went down while mine came up, and I was inspired to play my guitar my own way. The energy in the room and the feeling that the music brought made every dynamic change and every single transition flawless as though we had studied the song and rehearsed a million times, but the funny thing is that it wouldn't be the same if we had rehearsed. With rehearsal, the feelings we had would have been gone and the magic nonexistent. It was the improvised creation of the piece that connected us.

It's a special moment when music inspires others to take what is there and add to it. It's the very basis for why bands exist. The complexities and nuances that come from any different group of musicians is different and even if one person in a group is replaced, this change affects everyone else in dramatic and audible ways. What the new person adds to the music changes how everyone else plays according to how that person sees the song.

When we finally played it in the show, it was the most fun and seamless dynamic of recreational musicians doing something that they love. I'll never forget that performance and that moment of inspiration when the riff came into my mind."

When we watch a performance, we experience a shared consciousness because as we sit in an audience, our billions of brain cells are interacting with billions of other brain cells. To make my point and to offer you a moment of connection, and to practice Hygge, we are now going to watch a live performance of a piece that was composed by Richie Carchia.

So focus on the music and each other and let's enjoy this opportunity for a moment of human connection.

The Washington Post
"This is Your Brain on Art"
by Sarah Kaufman, Dani Player, Jayne Orenstein, May-Ying Lam, Elizabeth Hard and Shelly Tan.
September 18, 2017

The Week
Editor's Letter
March 30, 2018


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