St Francis Bay freelance journalist Beth Cooper-Howell takes a look at the other side of life in Woman on Top, her weekly lifestyle column
“Hygge” is the new hug – and the Danish say that once you experience it, you’ll never want to be without it again.
I first came across the concept of hygge – pronounced “hue-guh”, and roughly translated as “cosiness” – last week, on Facebook.
There were photos of pearly-toothed people sipping outsized cups of cocoa, or cycling gently through Denmark, apple Danish in hand.
There was a close-up of multi-generational friends at a bistro-style brunch served rustically on knobbly pieces of food, with no cutlery.
I always want to be the people in these pictures, enjoying these things.
The Danes know this, which is why they welcomed The Guardian’s Richard Orange into their fold for his investigation into why Danish people have a recipe for happiness which hasn’t quite reached the rest of us yet.
“The Danes are ranked as the world’s most contented people, and many believe it’s down to the art of cosiness, simple pleasures and living well,” says Orange.
Academic Jeppe Trolle Linnet published the world’s first academic paper on hygge five years ago and since then, several books have been released about the concept, which appeals to our need for a safer, more satisfying world.
“Hygge is perhaps most associated with hunkering down with cocoa and candlelight on a cold and rainy evening, but it can also be the gentle good time of a summer bicycle ride,” explains Orange.
“At its best, the crazy for hygge could encourage a love of simplicity, a rejection of expensive brands and conspicuous consumption, a renewed focus on the social relations that really matter.
“At worst, it could boil down to a way of selling candles and Danish designer lighting.”
So far, so good. We all want a little hygge in our lives and although we didn’t have a word for it until the Danes coined it, surely we naturally get it right most of the time?
Not really, according to Orange’s interviewees. One restaurateur explained that hygge was “not an easy state to achieve” and difficult – perhaps, even impossible – to have by yourself.
You also need to pretty much agree on what makes hygge in that particular moment (you can’t be fighting over rock versus jazz, for example, or disagreeing about the menu).
Otherwise, you may find yourself experiencing the opposite state, ‘uhyggelig’, which doesn’t mean ‘uncomfortable’, but ‘scary’.
Halfway through the article, the whole malarkey seemed like too much hard work for me – and in danger of lack of authenticity, considering that trying too hard tends to negate the whole point of feeling contentedly cosy.
But that’s perhaps why the Danes have it right, and we don’t.
For our benefit, they’ve studied what they already know intrinsically, and broken it down into simplified parts for us to understand.
Since hygge is etymologically related to the word ‘hug’, it follows that anything resembling hugging is one step closer to achieving Danish bliss.
While the Danes claim hygge doesn’t come easily, I bet it does for them, secretly, because the hard work isn’t the hygge – it’s the false notion that we can’t afford it, don’t have time for it, have to earn it, need the right type of people to do it with and should only have it at weekends.
I know people who ooze hygge in a car, through the office, in queues, over dirty dishes and even at the end of the month, when paying bills.
It’s a state of mind, not a product.