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Sustainability is a state of bliss

The Danish word "hygge" means coziness, gratitude, togetherness and all that is heartwarming. (Photo by Richard Thomas)

For many Northlanders, our ancestors are Scandinavian. Scandinavians have gotten good press lately for their ability to foster a sense of wellbeing even in the harshest of climates. The Danish have a special word for this: “hygge.” It sounds something like, “HYU-gah” and it loosely translates to a combination of coziness, gratitude, togetherness and all that is heartwarming. Other Scandinavian countries have ideas similar to hygge, and while none of them translate to English well, they all have something to do with feeling gratitude, doing something to promote closeness and togetherness, and slowing down.

These positive, more intentional, more careful perspectives maintain morale and help endure the colder, darker days. Basically, it’s about tuning into the seasonal clock and taking a cue from the outside to engage in some healthy human hibernation.

According to a few Danish sources on the topic, the most important hygge-hack is to embrace is the art of slowing down. When we rush through the day, we take all sorts of shortcuts that are likely not healthy for us or sustainable for the planet. When we slow down and allow time at the beginning and end of our day for reflection, planning and good conversation, we take the time to remember our goals, to reduce unnecessary errands. In the end, we actually waste less time and resources.

Every New Year’s, my friends and I talk of slowing down, spending less, focusing on quality time and quality products, and conserving and appreciating what we already have. One couple I know is engaging in “Thanks for Nothing” January, when they actually do not spend any money on anything. They will work through the depths of their kitchen cupboards, drive as little as possible and plan their consumption carefully. This is a very “hygge” concept, as hygge really is at its heart all about sustainability. Sustainability is holistic: it involves aligning our behaviors and our values for wellbeing in our environment, our pocketbooks, our communities and our bodies.

My daily commute would derail me from a month of spending zero money, but the concept is worth individualizing to our own needs to help reduce consumption and spending wherever possible, and to make room for higher quality and more thoughtful choices. Others I know have committed to reducing or cutting out specific products or habits: for examples, cutting out single use plastics, products made with palm oil, or fast food, makes room for using more beautiful reusable glass and eating healthier food options.

What could your family reduce if you focused on quality and slowing down?

“Bag It, Duluth” is a group working with many organizations and businesses around the city to move Duluth forward in reducing plastic bag and other single use plastic use. The move fits the Duluth ethos of holistic wellness, sustainability or “hygge” or whatever we each may call it. Since so many other cities in the US and world already do it, we are a bit behind our peers, especially Denmark which has the lowest use of plastic bags in all of Europe.

Plastic, while undeniably helpful and life changing for us in many ways, is also extremely detrimental. It actually lasts forever, and when it breaks down to smaller pieces, it harms the environment even more at microscopic sizes. With 22 million pounds of plastic finding its way into the Great Lakes every year, it’s even a huge problem locally. What we get from plastic in convenience, we pay for in almost every other way.

Slowing down and focusing on quality time and quality products can help us remember to grab our reusable bags, while we can be more mindful of making a list and deciding what we really need and what we can do just fine without.

Shawna Weaver

Shawna Weaver is a board member of Sustainable Twin Ports, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. She has Ph.D. in sustainability education and teaches at Animal Allies Humane Society and the College of St. Scholastica.