The holidays are upon us and for Danes that means the high season for “hygge”!
What is hygge? Well, it has nothing to do with Black Friday or Christmas bargain shopping. It’s not even about gifts, except perhaps the gift of sharing someone’s company.
There is no adequate English translation, and most non-Danes, like myself, have trouble even pronouncing the word! It is most often translated as cozy or coziness, but it is much more than that. Some say the best way to understand hygge is to look at the definition of its opposite, “uhyggeligt,” which is anything from cheerless and uncomfortable to sinister and alarming.
I once had the good fortune to live in Denmark and study at the university, and I have returned to visit many times since. The Danish family I lived with best explained hygge to me by exclaiming in the moment, “Bill, this is hyggelig (hygge-like)!” The first time this occurred was at a candlelit dinner at their home on a dark autumn evening. The meal was delicious and the conversation among the four of us warm and engaging. I began to see that hygge was subtle and somewhat individual, but it was social nirvana to Danes.
Hygge is a sense of peaceful well being and contentment expressed in a state of comfort and warmth (often, but not always) in the company of loved ones.
A loving and agreeable person can be described as “hyggelig” and a memorable time with friends might be “hyggeligt”.
Experiencing hygge is common at Danish summer or holiday houses in the country or near the sea, but it can happen anywhere.
At its essence, hygge is a state of thought – one that turns us from the fast pace and complexity of modern society to slow down and celebrate the joy and simplicity of life. According to a recent report on stress, the Danish pursuit of hygge and peaceful contentment may also be a healthy one.
Denmark had not been my first choice as a place to study abroad. The Danish language is difficult, the landscape unremarkable, and the weather often cold and gray. My preference had been to study in Italy. Yet, my year in Copenhagen was one of the best of my life and it changed me forever. I found it no surprise that Forbes.com reported the Danish people as the happiest on earth. The love and pursuit of hygge may be a significant reason.
From my experience, hygge has always had a spiritual quality to it – one that glimpses the divine goodness embracing each of us. To me, it’s somewhat like the biblical passage, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”
Danes may call it hygge, but we’re all capable of seeing the good in our lives and experiencing the same intimate peace and warmth. This year, consider making use of your fireplace or some holiday candles and have a very “hyggelig” holiday season!