Hygge is a Danish term defined as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” Pronounced “hoo-guh,” the word is said to have no direct translation in English, though “cozy” comes close. It derives from a sixteenth-century Norwegian term, hugga, meaning “to comfort” or “to console,” which is related to the English word “hug.”
The primary principles of hygge in Denmark include atmosphere, presence (the ability to be focused in the now), pleasure, comfort, and togetherness. The concept of hygge is about gratitude and savoring the simple pleasures that bring you joy,
From several articles I read on New Year’s morning as I reflect on the year ahead, how best to handle hardship with grace and even appreciation. Wool socks and slow simmering soup I have down but being fully present when the going gets tough is still a hard one for me. I don’t think I’m alone.
Hygge as a lifestyle I can’t even touch in this period of caring for V in a pandemic. No saunas, glogg, Scrabble games while the fire rages. No candles burning. No, we have to nix the long walks outside and warming up by a fire or natural light everywhere, given that V is still refusing to zip his coat so our walks are shorter, and he blows out candles because he associates them with birthday cakes (although he does occasionally let us keep the Shabbos candles lit). There are no gatherings of friends to play board games, we don’t even have any help since our home therapist came down with Covid.
And there’s the way it butts heads with our current political climate; it takes for granted a certain level of support and leisure time many Americans lack: “Perhaps Scandinavians are better able to appreciate the small, hygge things in life because they already have all the big ones nailed down: free university education, social security, universal health care, efficient infrastructure, paid family leave, and at least a month of vacation a year.”
So while I embrace the concept the fact is that much of the leisurely togetherness of hygge is outside our realm of possibility right now. Yet much of it still resonates for me, the pieces about simplicity and presence and savoring.
The best I can embody hygge is to work on being present and grateful for what is. Yes, school is cancelled due to a spike in Covid cases and yes, we’re all healthy and well in our house. V is in relatively good spirits given his boredom being stuck inside. Yes it’s brutally isolating and yes I have good friends and a loving family. Yes things are hard and they could be so much worse. And so on. I can’t change my circumstances yet I have control over how I end a sentence.
And I can work on the savoring, on comfort and warmth. The smell and taste of that first cup of coffee in the morning, the dal we’ve been making for the past month (an Indian lentil dish that we’ve reconfigured into a savory vegetable soup), comfy sweatpants, a space heater on the indoor front porch, where V likes to sit on frigid days looking out the window. I’m trying to take more tea breaks where I sit, sip and savor for a few moments and try to transport myself. Taking in the startling beauty of the first snow of the year. I’m wearing flannel pants and staring at the snow-covered branches out the window. I’m warm and content. No, this is hardly Copenhagen. Still we take our coziness where we can get it.
Hugs to you on these cold winter days.