Living in London: All hype and no hygge

I’ve come across very divided opinions about living in London. Some talk of energy, of buzz, of perpetual pace. Of always having something to do and someplace to go. Of vibes and hubs and endless varieties of people and places.

Others do not share this view. They complain about their squashed, squeezed, stifling rush of a commute. They moan about paying a small fortune for two thirds of a pint (yes, you can actually buy two thirds of a pint nowadays). And then there is a lot of talk of being tired. Tired all the time.

I’m probably in the first bracket of people. Most of the time, I crave a lot of movement and excitement in my life. I like late nights and long days. I like to wake up in the dark and follow a warm sunrise into a world purpose and people. However, I do recognise that there’s something non-stop about London that can very quickly run me into the ground. I may become ill and frazzled and manic and exhausted, especially if I’m not careful to create space and peace for myself. In fact, this winter I have become ill at the end of every single month. I can’t seem to help over-doing it.

Maintaining such things as ‘space’ and ‘peace’ is easier said than done in a busy city like London. Often, when I try to chill out it feels like I’m just going through the motions of a relaxed person. In a busy week, I might finally get a moment to settle down in a coffee shop with a book and some herbal tea, only to find my mind is screaming with a hundred ideas and to-dos.

I’m sure I’m not the only graduate who has often found themselves feeling stretched and wired. No matter where you live, life’s struggles make it easy to become preoccupied and stuck in your thoughts. How does one stop to smell the roses when they’re trying to find jobs or hold down jobs or reassure loved ones who want them to have found better jobs? There’s this sense of obligation, desperation, to always be on the go and carve out a place for oneself in this crazy world.

Having an active mind is not a bad thing and I thrive on it most of the time. But there is a balance to be struck and it takes a lot of work to discover what that balance means. The closest I have come to conceptualising it was when I read ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ by Meik Wiking of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) can be interpreted as something akin to slowing down, feeling cosy and building a sense of safety and warmth into daily life. Basically, it’s the polar opposite of London, where there is not even a direct English translation of the word, and where I would characterise the vibe as hyper not hygge.

Last summer, I visited Copenhagen, with high hopes of discovering something of this hygge life (I know winter is the hygge season, but plane tickets were much cheaper in June). I was not disappointed. I don’t know whether it was watching people greet old friends on the warm sunset steps of the harbour. Or wandering through green gardens and laughing at the rain. Or the fact that everyone was riding a bicycle. I just felt at ease the whole time I was there, even though I was ill when I arrived.

Of course, all my hygge was ruined when lightning hit Stansted and I was stuck at Copenhagen airport for three days. But such is life and I would highly recommend the free lounge in terminal two. There were trees and comfy chairs.

Since this wonderful trip, I have been striving to recreate some hygge in my everyday life. Despite all the gimmicks out there (apparently Danish living is pretty trendy nowadays), I have concluded that a lot of hygge comes down to simplicity. Rather than buying candles and expensive throws for your living room, I think hygge is more about a willingness to press pause, to stop looking for the next thing, even to be bored. I feel like I don’t know how to be bored anymore. I could blame my phone and that certainly plays a part, but the reality is that I have crammed my life and my mind too full. I have not allowed for the quiet and reflection that comes from slower moments in time. I can’t just wait three minutes for the next bus: I must fill that time with a work email or a productivity video or some other pointless activity that will not improve my well-being and can certainly wait for later.

Now that I have been in the post-university rat-race for several months, I have realised this: yes, the world is crazy, but this does not mean I should be. I should look after myself, be kind to my mind, and take care of my health. I should pause, think, read a book, take a walk and sometimes, do nothing at all. I am a person, not a machine. My energy levels will change, often, and I do not need to berate myself if I occasionally feel slow or tired.

So often, our bodies are telling us to slow down, and we ignore them. Who wants a quiet evening? In times like these, I try asking myself whether I will be truly happy once I have achieved whatever goal I am struggling towards.

My answer is always this: Of course I won’t, for I am human.

Even worse, I am ambitious. Achievements will never satisfy me for long. This does not mean I shouldn’t work hard and strive for greatness. In fact, the pursuit of my desires and goals is what brings me most satisfaction, rather than reaching them. But it is useful to remember that, when all is said and done, all I really have is this body, this mind, and this heart. And I must take care of them.

So, next time you are reaching absently for your phone, working far too late or being dragged out for a drink you never wanted…try pushing pause. Ask yourself: Am I going too fast? Is it worth sitting this one out? Do I need a little hygge?

You might be surprised with how good it can feel to Just. Slow. Down.

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