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Hyggelig Work: 4 Keys to Happier e-Discovery

Sam Bock

Sometimes you just need to find a quiet place to sit down in a big, comfy chair, with a good read, a tasty treat, a warm blanket, and maybe some pleasant company.

When I mentioned a good read, did you think of the 15 contract drafts in your queue to review, or yesterday’s reviewer progress reports?

Real talk: e-discovery—really, legal work in general—isn’t cozy. In fact, that might be the last word many of us would use to describe this space.

But life is what you make it. And so is work. So why not hygge a little?

What’s Hygge and Why Are We Talking About It?

Taking the world (or at least small pockets of it, like my book club) by storm is The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well. Written by Meik Wiking—CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, of course—the entire book is dedicated to defining hygge (pronounced hoo-ga). It’s a word without a precise translation, but in essence, it’s that contented, cushy feeling you get when you’re relaxing in your favorite spot at the end of a long day.

“Hygge has been called everything from…’coziness of the soul,’ and ‘the absence of annoyance,’ to ‘taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things,’” Wiking explains. “The word hygge originates from a Norwegian word meaning ‘well-being.’”

In a profession where hours per week often soar above the typical full-time 40, a feeling like that at home is critical. But it helps even more to get a little hygge in at work, too.

How to Hygge at Work

In the interest of treating yourself to a little hyggelig living during that long work week, here are four components of the Hygge Manifesto—described in Meik Wiking’s book—with some professional interpretations.

1. Pleasure

Even on a Monday, I must admit to finding some peace in sitting down with my computer in a quiet spot, drinking my first cup of coffee for the day, and catching up on a little work-related reading. Even when things get crazy as you’re hustling to meet deadlines and manage reviews, having a hot cup of tea or a coworker’s homemade cookie on hand can help keep you in the zone and, if not trigger true hygge, at least reduce stress.

As Wiking describes, “Hygge is about being kind to yourself—giving yourself a treat…and a break from the demands of healthy living.” You’ll be happier and more productive if you can learn to savor little moments of peace amidst the hustle and bustle of life.

(And anyway, if a 30-day production deadline and 13.9 million documents aren’t enough reason to enjoy an extra serving of sugar or caffeine, I don’t know what is.)

2. Equality

“The factor that has the biggest effect on our happiness is social support,” Wiking points out. A key part of hygge, sure, but also of general satisfaction—in personal and professional life—is your community. At Relativity, we’re big about community and we've noticed that embracing the talents of our peers helps make work more effective as well as more pleasant.

Wiking talks about sharing hygge with a specific attitude: “‘We’ over ‘me.’ Share the tasks and the airtime.”

Sounds like e-discovery collaboration 101, doesn’t it?

Make sure your team is properly aligned across departments; you’re showcasing the special skills of everyone on board; and everyone is encouraged to team up whenever possible. A positive social dynamic has a big impact on workplace happiness. 

3. Gratitude

Hear me out on this one. I know it’s difficult to find anything to be thankful for when you’re swimming in a review, or slogging through court proceedings with difficult opposing parties, or explaining how email threading works for what feels like the hundredth time. But alas, not all the ships on this sea of legal work are sinking. In fact, many of them are very firmly afloat.

“Research shows that grateful people tend to recover more quickly from trauma and suffering than others, and are less likely to get stressed in different situations,” explains Wiking. That makes gratitude a good way to avoid drowning in an often chaotic profession.

Be thankful for analytics, for example, which helps us avoid all kinds of big data catastrophes. Or for emerging tech that, while certainly presenting some challenges during discovery, helps make the world a safer place.

“Unfortunately, since our emotional system is a fan of newness, we are quick to adapt to new things and events, especially positive ones,” he goes on. “Therefore, you need to come up with new things to be grateful for, and not get stuck in the same way of thinking.”

Luckily, there’s no shortage of innovation in this field. Stay on top of it to find more reasons to feel grateful with each passing week.

4. Truce

Embracing a spirit of “no drama” is an important part of achieving hygge at home, according to Wiking. A central feature of hygge is its lack of contention; another is its easy comfortability. Admittedly, that’s pretty hard to achieve at work.

You can only control the stress factor at work so much. But what you can control is the way you react to and internalize your work, so embrace a positive and productive attitude. Forge a truce with your ego to work well without taking things too personally.

There’s debate over whether work-life balance is better served with hard boundaries or simple mindfulness. (Of course, we would tell you to put hard boundaries between your personal and professional data, but that’s a different discussion.) Whatever approach works for you, stay true to it. And while you’re at it, show some support for your coworkers’ approaches, too—especially if you’re a leader on the team. Their happiness is in your best interest, too.

Read a Blog Post on the Evolution of e-Discovery

Sam Bock is a member of the marketing team at Relativity, and serves as editor of The Relativity Blog.