First things first: What, exactly, is hygge?
It sounds like it could be the name of an Ikea product and is commonly thought to rhyme with “jiggy”. But hygge is actually a heart-warming lifestyle philosophy the world should learn to embrace.
The term comes from a Norwegian word meaning “well-being”, which is said to have first appeared in Danish writing in the 19th century before evolving into the cultural mentality that’s widespread in Denmark today.
Not exactly an easy word to figure out when it comes to pronunciation, hygge (say “hue-ga”) is a Danish concept that’s been practised for generations. Generally associated with warm, fuzzy cosiness, it’s said to make homes nicer and people happier.
The Danes have it down pat. How? They condition themselves to cultivate their relationships with family and friends.
Over and beyond finding a silver lining in any situation, hygge has more to do with finding comfort in a social circle or network by positively cultivating people’s behaviour towards each other. It’s the art of creating intimacy — a sense of comradeship, conviviality and contentment.
For instance, on a bitterly cold night, when the north winds are angrily blowing and rattling the window panes, the Danes find comfort in gathering everyone together by the fire, drinking mulled wine and stroking the soft fur of their dogs.
Hygge is also making time to sit down for a meal with family. You guessed it - the Danes don’t need initiatives such as “Eat With Your Family Day”; they see it as their moral responsibility to schedule such events. These dinners are commonly enjoyed within homes, which the Danes take extra pride in making cosy through the generous use of candles and other soft furnishings that are said to soothe and flatter the environment around them.
In fact, hygge is so revered in Denmark that doctors are said to prescribe it alongside medicine and hot tea to their ailing patients. Such an attitude to life is said to be one of the reasons Denmark is the third-happiest country in the world after Switzerland and Iceland, according to the latest World Happiness Report.
In her book The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country, author Helen Russell says, “Hygge seems to me to be about being kind to yourself — indulging, having a nice time, not punishing or denying yourself anything”.
Understandably, this is best practised when one gives himself or herself sufficient “me” time, so you’re in a better position to contribute to others’ needs.
Now, a UK college has lauded the art of hygge in the best way possible: Importing it. As part of her curriculum, Morley College lecturer Susanne Nilsson teaches students how to achieve hygge as part of her Danish language course. Her students huddle in groups to discuss the state of mind, and are encouraged to practise it subsequently in their own social networks.
That sounds like something we could all do with, as we enter a new year filled with new hopes and dreams amid the looming challenges of economic uncertainty. The latter — other than terms like “PSLE”, “MRT breakdown” and “KPIs” — truly strikes fear in many a Singaporean’s heart.
But rather than let stress and anxiety get to you, consider channelling these energies positively by celebrating the present, and taking things in your stride with more grace and humour.
Let your task today be to embrace something that makes you happy, which in turn, will remind you that life can be lived simply, yet well. Keep pursuing that feeling or mood that comes from taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary, everyday things simply extraordinary.
Some call it joy, others call it contentment, the Danes call it hygge. Either way, it all starts with you.