It is hard to make time for all the things you want to do at MIT. There was one week my Google calendar had so many overlapping events, meetings and deadlines that it looked like a colorful mosaic worthy of the contemporary art section at the MFA. From 9AM to 11AM on Wednesday, I somehow had to get from MIT to Harvard for a meeting, study for a pathology exam, submit a fellowship application and fit breakfast somewhere in there too. I was so overwhelmed by everything I had to do that I just sat at the bus stop in the cold and wished as hard as I could for a pause button on life.
While that button doesn’t exist yet (a future PhD thesis!?), it may have made more sense for me to wish to be more efficient. Sometimes, when you’re feeling overworked, it is hard to see how you could be any more efficient if you’re already stretched too thin. To understand this, I’ve begun to picture my mind like a laptop (bear with me here). If you have too many large, disorganized files, run numerous background programs consuming resources, or leave your battery discharged too often, you’ll be much slower at completing tasks than if you take the time to discard those temporary files, close out of background programs and charge up your battery. In the same way, the less we take care of our minds, the less efficient we become at completing all the tasks on our to-do list. But I learned this lesson the hard way.
One semester, I had worked myself to the bone and had gotten to the point where I was so weighed down by my own sadness that I couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed in the morning. I felt like I spent every waking hour working and yet nothing was getting done. It was around this time that my boyfriend gifted me “The Little Book of Hygge”.
I was insulted. Here I was, already at a low point and what do I get? A self-help book?
For those of you who have not yet googled Hygge and are wondering when I’m going to explain it to you, Hygge is defined by Google as happiness and self-care. To which my initial response was indignation. I already barely have time for half the things I have to get done; I most certainly don’t have time to indulge in reading a book on how I should be happier, especially from someone who didn’t understand what I was dealing with. But once I started reading, I realized it was so much more than that. Hygge is about coziness and surrounding yourself with things that bring you happiness. I don’t mean that next slice of chocolate cake or that fifth pint of beer but rather things that provide inner peace, warmth and solitude. I realized it was about lighting a candle that smells like home and letting the warm yellow glow illuminate your desk while you curl up with your favorite book and fuzziest blanket. It’s about taking the time to take a break and vent to your roommates/friends and laugh together about the ridiculousness of life.
Once I started making time for the little things that I used to think of as distractions, I found myself feeling happier and even more productive. My work was better, my relationships with my friends were deeper and more meaningful, and my outlook on life was brighter and more optimistic.
While my Google calendar doesn’t look any less colorful week to week, looking at it no longer fills me with dread. Interspersed between deadlines and meetings, some of the colorful blocks also remind me to take a hot cocoa break or grab a coffee with a friend. But these are just a couple of the ways I’ve incorporated Hygge into my life. At the end of the day, Hygge is about creating YOUR home away from home. Unfortunately, there’s no AppleCare for your metaphorical laptop, and only YOU truly know what you need to do to take care of yourself. Taking the time to figure out what your flavor of Hygge is — whether it’s going on a walk or buying fruits and flowers that remind you of home — is essential to staying sane when the world seems to be falling apart around you. While showering and brushing your teeth are good for your body, practicing good hygge-ne is good for your mind and soul.