I am not wearing wool socks right now.
There are no lit candles in my classroom.
I am not smothered in blankets, nor playing a board game with a loved one.
I am not slowing down, nor contemplating life. I have not cooked an elaborate breakfast before I started my day.
And yet, “jeg hygger” right now in my classroom. The morning is quiet and dark, I am content, I have my tea and a new day awaits.
This past year, it has been interesting being a Dane outside of Denmark. It seems as if everywhere I go, my entire culture has been distilled into one word, “Hygge.” (Not pronounced hoo-ga by the way.) Strangers have asked me for tips, my friends have shared their own experiences, and I have smiled, laughed and tried to explain that hygge and being “hyggelig” is not something you create meticulously. That yes candles may be a part of it and so are warm blankets and fires and laughter and love and books, don’t forget about books. But if you think that that is what hygge is, then you are sorely missing the point.
As the elements of hygge have been sold to the world, they have become just another form of cultural appropriation. There are, indeed, practical explanations for most of them; we wear warm socks in winter because it is cold, drafty, and sometimes dreary during our dark winters. Candles are for reminding us of the sun which we don’t see for long stretches of time during those same months. Books are because Denmark believes in an educated populace and so we have amazing libraries all around our country. Growing up we played board games because we didn’t have devices and we had very few channels on TV. Cooking together was much more economical and practical than eating out.
So what is hygge, in the eyes of this Dane? It is hard to say, although I have been asked to explain before. Hygge just is. But perhaps part of what it is can be said like this; it is a state of contentment. Of being at peace with yourself and others, even if just for small chunks of time. Of being in the now, whatever the now is. Of comfort when the elements seem rough, but also about not taking yourself too seriously. About gentle when you need to be. About love. About togetherness even if you are alone.
So before you try to create an atmosphere of hygge, before you make your life overly complicated searching for an elusive state of something; don’t be fooled. Look around, check yourself; are you content? Are you happy? If yes, then you may already have mastered the art of “hygge” and you didn’t even need to wear warm socks.