How Sailing Life and Hygge Life Go Well Together

It seems lately that the Internet is awash with articles about an art of living that is rooted in the Danish way of life. Its translation is fluid and indirect, but seems to be commonly translated as “cozy living”. A warm, crackling fire; dear friends and family having a laugh together; the smell of freshly baking bread or chocolate chip cookies; the sound of rain on a window when you’re wrapped up in a wool blanket reading your favourite book — that’s hygge.

Pronounced “hoo-guh”, this Danish concept seems to distill down to, basically, enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Friends. Family. Graciousness. Contentment. Good feelings. Kindness. Indulgence.

This “cozy living” is so well enfolded in the daily life and culture of the Danes that it is no wonder Denmark is ranked one of the world’s happiest countries (Source). Which is amazing, since Danish winters are oft-cited as being especially long and brutal – up to 17 hours of darkness per day and average temperatures around 0°C at their worst (hey, sounds like our winters, haha). 😛

That said, the Danes will tell you this is exactly why hygge has developed organically in their culture, by virtue of all the time they spend indoors in each other’s company. I suppose when the weather is relentlessly harsh, it becomes important for people to be that much more gentle and relaxed – both with themselves, and each other.

“Hygge seems to me to be about being kind to yourself – indulging, having a nice time, not punishing or denying yourself anything … that having a relaxed, cosy time with friends and family, often with coffee, cake or beer, can be good for the soul.”

– Helen Russell, author of The Year of Living Danishly

It’s so great that so many countries around the world are finally picking up on hygge and learning to embrace it in their own lives. I think the feeling of coziness and contentment is something any human can understand and relate to.

It’s interesting to note, too, that Danish society works a little differently than our western ones (thinking mostly of America, and a little bit of Canada). They have free healthcare (like Canada), free education, 10-months paid maternity leaves, and – most interesting of all (to me, at least) – one of the “highest income equality and lowest poverty rates of any Western nation”. (Source)

This means most Danes share the same socioeconomic status range. They don’t “hustle” or “grind” through 80-hour weeks, or try to “climb ladders” or step on each other for things like ‘status’ or power jobs. At least, not like us westerners do.

It seems, for the Danes at least, money only buys happiness up to the point where all their basic needs are met. After that, quality of life comes from building better relationships and slowing life down so that it can be enjoyed… it comes from hygge.

“Hygge is as much about mindfulness as it is about coziness and a sense of belonging. It’s about being more connected to the real world and showing gratitude for what you have.”  (Source)

Living on a sailboat definitely lends itself naturally to being hygge. When I lived and worked in cities, hustling and grinding my way through a career, hygge moments weren’t top of mind for me. That’s not to mean hygge can’t be sought in a city. I think it really comes down to intention and mindset. And my lifestyle now feels like it walks hand in hand with hygge, instead of my needing to intentionally seek it out.

Though I relate it to my life now on a sailboat, hygge is really universal to all locations. It can really be a wonderful mental bookmark to remember that the greatest pleasures in life are those we find and create in our everyday lives.

So here’s my list – 10 ways that hygge and sailboat life have come together for me.

01 – Enjoying the Comfort of Coziness

With its tight living conditions and simple amenities, our sailboat lends itself quite naturally to the feeling of being cozy. There’s only one “room” that’s really for living/relaxing, and that is where Josh and I (and our little pooch) snuggle up together regularly. We pass many hours in warmth and closeness. Sometimes having wonderful conversation. Sometimes just remaining in perfect silence. But in all cases, even if we’re on opposite sides of the boat, we’re still close by to one another. And I get such a sense of coziness from that.

02 – Relaxing and De-stressing

Being on the water has a supremely calming effect on me. The gentle bobbing up and down. Listening to the water lapping against the hull. Smelling that ever-fresh air with its salty goodness. Always having a vista that escapes your eye because of its vastness. These things seem to naturally decompress you and bring you back to a standing ‘stillness’. 

03 – Enjoying Life’s Simple Pleasures

On a self-contained sailboat, all one really has is distilled down to those small moments that make up a day. Turning on the propane to percolate the morning coffee. Stringing up your damp towels on deck to dry in the sun. Adjusting the boat heading to avoid flotsam in the water. Though they seem like inconsequential or mundane activities on the surface (as compared to, say, going to a rock concert or attending a party), these things make up the bulk of your life! Which leads me to the next list item…

04 – Slowing Down and Entering the Present Moment

Even the smallest of activities can bring the largest of changes to your state of mind. I remember reading somewhere about the Buddha saying that life is meditation. Taking a breath, if done with full consciousness, can bring you to Nirvana! So what we do in life really doesn’t matter much; it’s what we bring to our experiences, from within ourselves, that makes all the difference in the world.

05 – Creating  atmosphere for your home

A few shelves lined with useful and enjoyable books. Macrame hanging baskets of plants and fresh fruits. Throw pillows, blankets, and lanterns at every turn, just inviting you to get comfortable and stay a while. These are the things that give a living space ‘atmosphere’. And though space is limited on a boat, they are still very important considerations. We each kept the things that were most important to us: him, some small wooden statues with sentimental value. Me, some books and my desire for warmth via blankets, pillows, and candlelight.

06 – Embracing That Which Makes you feel good

What’s your pleasure? Walking around topless? Barbequing (and eating BBQ)? Making yourself a daquiri on hot evenings? In our case, all of the above? The point is – no one is here to judge you. And no one should make you feel guilty or otherwise for enjoying what you enjoy most. Own that shit! It’s taken me years, and I’m still struggling with this honestly, but figuring out what I REALLY love about life and then doing it without shame… that’s why we’re here.

07 – Making quality the primary factor

Josh is a big proponent of this one. He likes to use that quote: “penny wise, pound foolish” to make the point that if you’re going to invest in something important, get the best quality you can. Spend a little more. And this isn’t just about buying things. We feel better when we invest more in meaningful conversations with each other. Or when we eat exquisitely-prepared food. Something stirs the soul when you give yourself the best of something. 

08 – Dispensing with guilt and other self-harming emotions

When you get to list item 10, this one will make more sense. There is nothing wrong with indulging oneself in the pleasures that life has to offer. I’m not even going to advocate for moderation here (which I might have 5 years ago), because it’s a completely personal thing. I used to have all these ideas in my head of how much was too much for every little thing. And what I found was it detracted from the enjoyment of said thing when I DID indulge in it. Even in moderation! So yeah, I said f**k it to bad feelings. If I want to spend all day “playing” or eating or lounging in my dinghy drinking beer, ain’t no one can say a damn thing about it. 😉

09 – Curating habits and rituals to create more joyful moments

I’m sure many of you have at least one of these already, though you may not even be aware of it. For instance, on mornings when Josh and I get to wake up naturally, we fumble our way into the salon and have a morning coffee together. Sometimes he makes it. Sometimes I do. But we always start with that hot cup of joe, and usually have our goofiest conversations of the day while both making it and enjoying it. (Boy, I’m realizing I mention coffee a LOT in this article. I might have a problem, haha!)

10 – Remembering that life is short

I love this fact. People use it to explain or rationalize all kinds of actions or ideas. For me, though, when I think about having a finite amount of time on this earth, it reminds me to laugh! At humans, in all our silliness and imperfectness. At the things we find serious and important. And at how hilarious we can be, too. Life IS indeed short. So I remember to laugh it up as much as possible, and not be too serious. 🙂

Some final thoughts…

I especially love this concept, or philosophy, of hygge for what it represents on a social level: it encourages us to be more human with one another. To connect more, and in a more qualitative way, than we might do otherwise.

Forget about the “social contract” or “quid pro quo” of relationships. We aren’t networking here. We’re building honest connections with each other. Remember ubuntu – people are people through other people.

The mission behind SaltWest for Josh and I is to, in our own way, live more hygge-fully. To embrace a lifestyle that includes more hospitality, more warmth, more respect for each other and the environments we share.

The hygge tradition also includes sharing stories – stories about ideas and history, culture and the things we create. And that’s what I hope we achieve with this blog, and in the adventures we seek to have in our finite time here. 

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Stay awesome,