Hygge? It sounds familiar? Where have I heard that word before?

Apart from in every newspaper the first weekend in September and in most major bookshops? Heck, Meik Wiking even made it to Saturday Live on Radio 4 on 10th September 2016 talking about hygge and happiness. It is big this year.


I can’t even remember the first time I heard it as a word; it must have been after The Killing was first shown on BBC 4, so sometime after November 2011, then. There was something about that series that I enjoyed; perhaps it was the length of time they allowed it to simmer and juice up, perhaps the idea that Sarah Lund was a cop who happily wore a knitted sweater to work because she didn’t feel the need to wear a business suit or high heels appealed to my egalitarian nature.

sarah-lund
Sarah Lund’s jumper came from the Faro Islands.

Whatever. I knew I liked Danish dramas, and I watched as many as I could. 


And because the dramas were so good, I looked into the country. I googled and read and searched out blogs and books and wanted to see why the happiest country on Earth took their drama so seriously. 


And the more I looked into Denmark, the more I liked it. They are a thoughtful society, a close-knit society, happy with their lot, not showy or boastful or bragging. Their design is sublime, simple, effective, useful objects with emphasis on natural and organic. Form follows function, not show and pomp.


The people struck me as just the same, workers who knew that they needed time off as well. In a culture where 80% of mothers work, having the decency to close most offices at 4 so that said mothers can spend time with their children as well. What a balance between need and necessity. My love affair was born.


Sometime around then I must have found this article, This Column Will Change Your Life, by Oliver Burkeman. He has written a lot about happiness and fulfilment, so when he explains that “if you don’t have a readily accessible label for a feeling such as ‘hygge’, might that not help edge it out of your emotional range, or at least from the kinds of things you find time in your schedule to do?”, I’m inclined to listen. If we are so tied up to happiness as a destination and to fulfilment as a result of happiness, we are inclined not to do things just because. If they’re not on the life plan vocabulary, there’s no place for it on the plan.


Oliver Burkeman argues that the idea of hygge as a direct translation of the English ‘cosy’ is not possible; cosy lacks the security element of hygge, the idea that it is a transitory feeling, not a permanent fixture. That we seek something hygge in our lives is plain, Mr Burkeman says, because  “something like it occurs again and again in non-English languages: German “Gemütlichkeit” is similar, as is Czech “pohoda” and Dutch “gezelligheid”. There is, it seems, significant demand for this kind of friendly, secure, usually home-based warmth.” I suspect that we would have to get all German and string the words that make up hygge together to get the closest English translation. 

comfy-cosy-peaceful-happy-warm-cared for-secure-safe is a start for what hygge means. It’s a mouthful, and not something you’d just say to a friend. Whereas in Denmark hygge is a verb as well as an adjective; ‘let’s go hygge’ is a perfectly acceptable invitation. 


Anyhow, the article introduced the word, the word began to feature in my thoughts, and I started to think if I wanted to be more happy/peaceful/secure/cosy then perhaps the principles of hygge were the ones I needed to apply to my life. Perhaps I needed to build in more chances to hygge and to enjoy the warmth of life. 

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