By Ron Young —
I woke up this morning with a dead man singing in my head. Worse than that I couldn’t make out the words, but I did remember the singer, Johnny Cash, and the song was “Folsom Prison Blues.”
“There is a train a-comin’, it’s rolling round the bend, and I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when…”
As winter dawns on us, this phrase in the song rings ever so true on some of these dreary days.
We move into winter, through the ‘holiday season,’ and emerge into the cold hard reality of a new year. Winter can be a time of great expectations as we organize the coming years “crops” in the gardens of our minds.
Communities in the Cariboo and elsewhere become closer in the winter months; reduced to our core populations we spend more of our time planning things to entertain ourselves rather than our visitors. The change from the giddy party mentality of the tourist season to the happy intimacy of friends and acquaintances is palpable and welcome as the darkness of winters’ shorter days close around us.
An interesting concept that encompasses the coziness of these days comes from the Danish practice of hygge. Denmark, according to the UN World Happiness Report, is the happiest country in the world. Denmark has also topped the European Commission’s well being and happiness index for 40 years.
Hygge is pronounced something like HYU-gah, makes me think of the old time Model A Ford horns belting ‘hayooga.’ Hygge has a meaning that is difficult to define in English but it seems to incorporate all the subtle meanings of well-being, intimacy, friendship, acceptance, and more intangible concepts like knowing which item to catch when your shopping bag tips over and a chicken and a carton of eggs dropout. Aside from the fact that, in that split second before they hit the floor, your cerebral mind is busy pondering which came first—the chicken or the egg—and additionally, why the bag packer at the store put both those things in the same bag anyway; the part of your consciousness that just knows stuff reaches for the egg carton. It has to do with awareness and a holistic understanding of a situation.
Holistic means comprehending the parts of something as intimately connected and understandable only by reference to the whole. Sort of like when we’re trying to wrap our minds around the environment, the planet, and how everything is connected to everything else. A holistic understanding of things so often gets drowned out by the rational, logical, legal, accounting parts of our mentality. The Danes seem to have stepped back from that reason-centric perspective to a more action-centric model that uses playfulness, creativity, and emotion.
It’s not necessary to always follow the rules literally. The rules are only the framework used to hang our ideas; they aren’t the ideas. If we only think of things in terms of economics and what makes literal sense we won’t make the right decisions about how to be good stewards of our families, our homes, and our world.
I have had this conversation in so many different ways with many of my friends who are trying to decide on a renewable energy system. So often the conversation starts out with, “So, what is the pay back time on this system?” When that’s all you think about you are missing the big picture. The key word in that phrase is “renewable.” When you grasp the concept of renewable then knowing the source of your energy is renewable makes you happy. You know the future won’t look back at you and point an accusatory finger. It’s only one step but it’s a big one and the happiness returns are also renewable.
The magic that the Danes have perfected is carrying the hygge concept into their daily life, not just practicing it during the seasonal periods like Christmas. This concept is best stated by professor of economics Christian Bjørnskov from Aarhus Business School in Denmark who wrote his PhD on happiness. He says: “The great thing about Danish society is that it doesn’t judge other people’s lives. It allows them to choose the kind of life they want to live…” and he goes on to say, “Money is not as important in the social life here, as for example Britain and America. We probably spend our money differently here. We don’t buy big houses or big cars…”
In the New Year we can look for the big picture and as befits our highly privileged position in the world try to take leadership roles in looking out for the planet and her inhabitants. To paraphrase the words of the masterful Johnny Cash, “there is a train a comin’ but when we hear that whistle blowing we don’t have to hang our head and cry…”
Ron Young is a renewable energy professional that designs and sells and installs solar, wind, and micro-hydro systems. He operates the earthRight store in Williams Lake, BC and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright Ron Young 2014 /2015