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Autumn 2020: need a September reset? Try the Danish concept of “pyt”

The seasons have shifted, and autumn is upon us. And with it, as ever, comes the unshakeable feeling that September brings with it the promise of a fresh start.

Over the past five months or so, I’ve woken up in the mornings feeling as if I haven’t slept at all. This has meant that each day has begun with my stress levels already climbing, and usually sped me towards bursting into angry, noisy tears of frustration at least once. With everything going on, I just haven’t felt my usual happy self. 

Indeed, to quote the indomitable JRR Tolkien, it’s as if my heart and mind have been “sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

This morning, though, felt different. For the first time in forever, I feel different. Because, despite getting to bed later than usual (and despite being woken up at 3am by foxes clawing through the bins outside), I woke up energised and refreshed. And this, in turn, meant that I somehow found time to do that which has long seemed impossible: shower, get dressed, take the dog for a walk, make up a packed lunch, pour myself a cuppa, and tuck into a decent breakfast. 

And I did it all before 9am, too.

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So what’s different? Well, the news remains as bleak as ever (sorry), with experts continuing to issue “second wave” warnings as Covid-19 cases climb around the world. My workload hasn’t changed, the recession and all it entails still leaves me unable to look too closely at my bank account, and I will presumably never find time to get on top of the household chores.

The only major difference between today and yesterday, as far as I can tell, is the fact that, when I stepped outside this morning, the ground was wet with dew and my breath hung like a dragon’s in the air around me. The sun shone bright as anything, but there was a definite bite to the air. So much so, in fact, that I pulled on a pair of black boots and tights, teamed them with a cosy knitted dress, and warmed my hands on a mug of hot tea as I gazed at a fresh, clean page in my monthly calendar.

The seasons have shifted, and autumn is upon us. And with it, as ever, comes the unshakeable feeling that September brings with it the promise of a fresh start. 

Autumn trees in Copenhagen, Denmark - stock photo
Denmark is frequently touted as the happiest country in the world.

Once upon a time, we marked the start of a new school year with a shiny fresh-off-the-WH-Smith-shelf pencil case and school bag. Nowadays, though, we tend to channel those ‘back to school’ vibes into a hard September reset: we consider applying for a new job, starting up a new hobby, and making new plans. We usually, too, use the time to take a long hard look at whether or not we’re living our lives the way we want.

This autumn, though, I recommend we all make this reset work harder than ever – because if any year needs to be switched off and on again, it’s 20-bloody-20. 

With that in mind, then, I suggest we all sidestep our usual love of ‘hygge’ and instead embrace the Danish concept of ‘pyt’.

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Frequently touted as the happiest country in the world, we’ve long been jealous of Denmark’s feel-good vibes. It should come as little surprise to learn, then, that a new Happiness Museum has now opened in Copenhagen.

To mark the moment, Danish psychologist Marie Helweg-Larsen, a professor at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, sat down with CNN to explain why the Danes are so much happier than everyone else, especially during these trying times. And it is ‘pyt’ – a term used by Danes to express that they accept a situation is out of their control, and that, even though they might be annoyed or frustrated, they decide not to waste unnecessary energy on thinking more about it – which holds the answer.

This idea of acceptance and moving on, of resetting, of ‘pyt’, isn’t just beloved by Helweg-Larsen. Indeed, the BBC reports that, in 2018, it was chosen as the nation’s favourite word in a competition held by the Danish Library Association during the country’s annual ‘Library Week’. 

And Chris MacDonald – who moved to Denmark from the US over two decades ago – also sung the praises of ‘pyt’ in What Denmark has taught me about happiness, his article for Danish national newspaper Berlingske.

An autumn forest rural scene in Jutland, Denmark.
The seasons have shifted, and autumn is upon us.

“Pyt is one of my favourite words,” writes MacDonald . “It’s the most positive sound I have ever heard. And it has an enormous power when it comes to letting go of things we can’t change.

“There is so much relief in that word.”

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He isn’t wrong. This idea that we can move on from all that’s happened, shake off all that negativity, and begin anew is an endlessly appealing one. After all, there’s no denying that 2020 has been an absolute shitshow. Nothing turned out as we hoped, and none of our carefully-made plans came through. 

But, while I suggest we take with us the hard lessons we have learned over the past year (there’s nothing to be gained from burying our heads in the sand and ignoring what’s happened), I vote that we make like the Danes and all those children trudging back to school this week. We need to move onto Plan B.

So take a deep cleansing breath. Turn your face forwards, instead of backwards. Feel the autumn sun on your face, and know that everything is going to be OK. And then…

Well, then press the ‘pyt’ button. You won’t regret it.

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