Originally posted on Forbes.com.
Trends are a little like epidemics. They happen only when large numbers of people are in close contact and things are changing fast—the way they are now. As major upheavals like the Brexit vote and the U.S. election hurtle us all toward a 2017 that could define 2016 as the year of “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” we will see several trends that serve as the catalysts of or the commentary on the unintended consequences of major events.
Last year, we forecast that more of us than ever would be stricken with an epidemic known as “unease.” In 2017, there’s little prospect of general levels of unease dropping—quite the reverse, in fact. That’s why we will be cleaving to all things hygge, which idealizes the warm and cozy Danish lifestyle in a single word (and in numerous new books on the subject). As the world turns darker and more threatening, more and more consumers are turning inward—craving the warmth and comforts of food, friends and connection that the Danish call hygge. It’s a buzzword so appealing that it skyrocketed on Google search in the last year—presumably, “how to pronounce hygge” was also a common search. Hoo-guh is your answer, which sounds, fittingly, like an extra-big bear hug. Hygge was even a finalist for Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 “word of the year.”
But don’t mistake hygge for good wine, a pair of decade-old UGG boots, golden retriever puppies, a roaring fireplace and simple comfort foods. (Trend sidenote: Comfort-food-standby mashed potatoes will be sidelined in 2017 in favor of mashed cauliflower, which is now sparring with zucchini for the title of Most Versatile Vegetable Ever.) There’s a deeper meaning to the word that connotes a sense of longing for a mythical state where things work, relationships are harmonious, pleasures are simple and the living is easy whatever the season. Our quest for this is perhaps one reason why “Make America Great Again” resonated the way it did.
Hygge is a natural offshoot of our “small is the new big” (another version of which is “local is the new global”) trend from recent years past. That prediction was based on the premise that in a world that feels increasingly overwhelming and out of control, there’s a growing appetite for smaller in all areas of life—a hunkering down in our cities, our communities, our local businesses, our families and homes (where more of us are decluttering and tidying our homes, Marie Kondo style). Smaller feels more manageable, more controllable—cozier. Familiarity feels safe, so watch for nostalgia as one antidote to fear. That’s why brands (and what is President-elect Trump if not a brand?) reinforce their relevance to today’s nervous, highly emotive consumers with constant connectivity. Today, intimacy—real or faux—makes people feel safer, so watch as brands hug their targets and surround their customers.
Of course, so much connectivity will breed its own problems. As people all around the world pine for an imaginary time of greater simplicity and prosperity, they are utilizing the most advanced communications platforms and devices to consume and distribute information. That’s why, with the number of smartphone users worldwide currently over 2 billion and growing, there is also growing awareness of texting thumb syndrome, cellphone neck and eyestrain. A massive market is shaping up to investigate and treat these emerging ailments as permanent unease translates into chronic stress. Chronic stress not only has worrying long-term health implications, but it also impairs job performance. Workplaces that keep unnecessary stress to a minimum and help employees to feel good while on the job will be the ones that get the best results. (Memo to self: Even if I write emails at 5 a.m., program the mail server to deliver them at the more sociable hour of 8:15 a.m.)
Likewise, those who stay ahead of or on top of these trends and the changes they bring will be the winners within their industries and within the world at large. The ability to look for random patterns and extrapolate from the past and present—the basic element of trendspotting—is hardwired into the human brain for survival: The most fundamental truth of what’s next (besides death and taxes) is unprecedented change. Did I say “Happy Next Year?”
How well brands, businesses, organizations—and perhaps even whole societies—make it through this period of great unease may very well hinge on their ability to recognize what is happening and respond wisely.