I read an article in that beautiful late-December period when the media writes thoughtful, long-form articles about things that aren’t breaking news. The article described hygge. The word is a Danish one, pronounced “hoo-geh” (according to my Danish friend) and it means well-being, or maybe coziness. It’s a concept or value that the Danes consider a key part of their culture. In reading through what it means, I realized that it is both a value that I treasure and a place where I fall far short.
What is hygge to me? We don’t have a fireplace, which is tragic. Fireplaces are practically automatic hygge. Hygge is sitting on the couches and reading books together on library/pizza night. Hygge is a lit Christmas tree. Hygge is sitting on the front porch and working on my book. Hygge is hanging around someone’s kitchen with my neighbor-friends and catching each other up on our lives. Hygge is sitting with my son at Kushala Sip. Hygge is lighting the candles on either side as we sing “Silent Night” together on Christmas Eve. Hygge is when you can’t move because you have a cat on your lap. Hygge is when you’re in the kitchen, light on your feet, making food to feed your friends. I think that any time that is improved by lighting a candle is hyggeligt (rough translation: hygge-time!).
While I was working on my novel (update: still in progress, added a few thousand words this holiday), my beloved husband expressed that he missed spending time with me. Specifically – although he didn’t use this word – he missed the cozy time we might spend together watching a show or playing a game. I found writing to be a solitary, consuming task and my partner in life missed me when I was being solitary. He missed being hygge together.
There are of course precious moments in life that aren’t hygge. This weekend we went for a glorious hike along the turgid banks of the Saugus river, finding signs of beaver in the glazed snow. It as astonishingly lovely and refreshing… but not hygge. There are great adventures we pursue. I find, as I prepare to return to work, that the appeal of a difficult task to be well done with hard work is considerable. I like to work hard on things where my hard work leads to a great thing. That’s great – but not hygge. Most of camping is not hygge, but there’s that moment sitting around the fire when the entire world is about 10 feet in the radius of flickering orange tongues of flame, and the call of the loon wafting over the right shoulder that captures the very heart of the feeling.
In thinking about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that many of my most precious moments are these moments. They’re when I feel connected to my loved ones, myself… and even my God. They make my heart well over with joy. And yet I’ve taken them only as they come, taking them as a gift of chance. As I grow older, I look with greater skepticism on waiting for life to shower me with bounty. I prefer to create environments where the fruits I would grow can flourish.
So… I don’t have a SMART* New Year’s Resolution this year. Instead I have an atmospheric one. I would like to create more opportunities for hyggeligt with the people I like best. That will, ideally, show itself as more reading on the couch, more sitting together to watch the snow fall, more lying in bed next to my husband and listening to the rain fall.
What do you find hygge? And what are your plans for the new year?
*Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely – if you really want to change something about yourself, finding an expression of your intention that matches those criteria significantly increases your odds of being successful.