A bit of hygge, seasoned with shinrin-yoku. And also board game suggestions!
February 18, 2015
I think we know a real thing when we meet it, even if we can't quite figure out how to describe it exactly. That feeling you have while staring into a fire? Can you boil it down into one word? Maybe so, or maybe not (I haven't succeeded yet), but it turns out that there are some specific words in other cultures and languages that get to the core of some "real things" concepts. And over the course of the recent long President's Day weekend my family and I went big on hygge and shinrin-yoku.
Hygge, and Board Games
Hygge (pronounced "hyoogah") comes from the Danish culture, and we might use the words coziness, comfortable, or togetherness when trying to express what hygge is. It's a concept that finds its best expression in the winter by gathering around a fire, curling up under a blanket, socializing with close family and friends. Our take on hygge was to escape to a small family cabin in the mountains of Idaho, together with my sister's family, for a long weekend of board gaming. The simple pleasures of being together for shared meals, conversation, games, and relaxation can't be beat, and the simple, comfortable cabin setting somehow amplifies the experience. You'll see plenty of hygge in the pictures below -- piles of blankets, kids and animals, books and games, meals and cozy spaces.
We broke into a new game on this trip: Terra Mystica. It's a complicated game to learn, but very engaging, albeit for players above the age of 10 or 12 or so. Elements of chance are few, leaving the outcome of the game primarily determined by player strategy and interaction. Players are represented as one of fourteen different "factions," each of which has a set of slightly different (but well balanced) capabilities. This allows for a lot of variety in gameplay over time, which should keep Terra Mystica interesting for quite awhile. We went out and got our own copy of this game the next day after we got home from this trip.
Ticket to Ride is a game more accessible to younger players, though still plenty of fun for adults. The objective is to claim rail lines between cities on a map-decorated board. Claims are made using colored cards, collected in each turn. Points are awarded for claiming routes, and players are incented to link routes together with destination cards, which offer bonus points for completion of a route through several (or many) cities. It's fun to place the little colored train pieces, and the board is always visually interesting by the end of the game, with different colored trains weaving their way across the map.
A crock pot of navy beans and ham made the cabin smell amazing, and provided for easy snacking throughout the day.
Settlers of Catan is a longtime favorite around our house. Players build settlements and roads in the joints and seams of colorful hexagon tiles, using rolls of the dice to collect the necessary resources for growth and expansion. Trading of resources is encouraged. There are many expansion packs available for Settlers, giving the game a really long life of satisfying play.
This year we also tried a bit of classic role playing adventuring with a 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons adventure. Half of the fun, and easily half of the the time we spent, was in creating characters and outfitting them with the necessaries for their dangerous fantasy world. Violent encouters with wolves, goblins, and oozes were punctuated with problem solving (how are we going to get across the bridge and past the goblin guards?) and exploring. As Dungeon Master, I kept a ready supply of monsters, dice, and liquid courage behind my screen.
Yeah, we pushed the hygge to the limit. But we did manage to step out into the great outdoors for some fresh air every now and then, and boy was it beautiful. And, according to some cultures, deeply beneficial. The Japanese concept is called "shinrin-yoku," which might be translated as "forest bathing." Documented wellness outcomes are associated with the practice of short, liesurely walks in the woods. Our own walks were in the bright sun, along the shores of a frozen lake. The air was crisp and clean. Snow covered mountains loomed on every horizon. The ice of the lake emitted science fiction sounds at unpredictable intervals: cracks, booms, and strange percussive tones, as if a laser cannon battle raged just beneath the surface.
As ever, I'm struck by how simple and accessible real things are. Hygge doesn't take any special equipment (nor does it actually require board games, though they can't hurt). A blanket and a cup of hot tea will do the trick. Add some friends and family for extra effect. Forest bathing doesn't require a cabin in the woods, but is a practice that can be done as effectively in a local park. What's difficult, I think, for most of us is creating the time and space for some of these practices in our busy lives, and to choose simple experiences when so many more complex options are available. Simple, accessible experiences are also difficult to sell to people, so we tend to encounter messaging that encourages novel, complex, gear intensive approaches to happiness. Maybe we used to have words in the English language for these concepts, and we lost them somewhere along the consumer culture road. Whatever the case, I'm grateful to encounter hygge and shinrin-yoku as cultural concepts, and I hope they prove inspiring to you too.