How did you pronounce that word in the title of this post? “Higgy?” “Hij-eh?” Well, believe it or not, that’s pronounced “Hoo-guh,” and it stands for something awesome.
Back in June, I spent a wonderful couple of days in Copenhagen, Denmark. Before I moved on to Sweden, I thought I’d take a free walking tour and learn a few things about the city. Near the very end of the tour, our guide gathered us all and explained the concept of Hygge.
Hygge stands for being happy with what you have. It stands for being in a warm, cozy situation. Our guide explained that there is no real definition of the term, and one is supposed to interpret it as they see fit, but that she believed in the idea that good company in a friendly setting, soaking up life’s gifts, is Hygge.
This excerpt from VisitDenmark.com best sums it up for me: “The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family – that’s hygge too. There’s nothing more hygge than sitting round a table, discussing the big and small things in life. Perhaps hygge explains why the Danes are the happiest people in the world?”
I love that the Danes have a term for, or belief in this feeling of cozy happiness. Of being grateful for what you have and where you are and who you are with. Of hakuna matata, basically.
And even though my sample size is quite small, the time I spent in Copenhagen confirmed this phenomenon’s existence. Hygge was basically dripping out of people while I was there (of course, it helped that it was the first amazingly sunny weekend in a while, and there happened to be a music festival going on). You couldn’t help but be exceedingly happy in Copenhagen.
This has me thinking about happiness, Hygge, and not taking things for granted.
See, as I mentioned in my blog about Morocco, I met a Mexican girl (Carla) who lives and works in the bush in Central African Republic. She intervened in our conversation about how much happier Moroccan people seemed with so much less, pointing out a contradiction: people will always want what they can’t have.
Her example? An African man who told her, completely seriously, that if he had the opportunity to own an iPhone, he’d kill his wife to get it. She argued to us that people are often more content with less because they’re used to having less, and don’t have access to anything more, so they simply make the best out of a bad situation. But, they still wish they could have fancy, shiny, high-tech things.
So while we see the simplicity with which some people live and how they seem to squeeze more out of every day than we do in a week, and we wonder how we can have so much and be so much less satisfied than them…what do they see? Maybe they see wealthy tourists come in and they daydream about owning a car and a house and an iPhone in America or Europe. Maybe they figure that we must be the incredibly happy ones, since we have so much.
These things may very well all be true. In fact, it is completely logical, even if an extreme example. I think that’s important to remember, since seeing people who seem so happy with worse fortunes than us turns into an exasperating observation (“Ugh, why can’t we be as happy as them? They just live!”), rather than an actual appreciation for our own lives. We should remember more, like the Danish, how lucky we are.
Most Danes (and Scandinavians for that matter) aren’t wanting for things like many in poorer countries are. In terms of economic fortitude, they are much closer to Americans. So why, in general, did Danes seem so much more carefree than your average American?
I have no idea. Maybe I’m just putting too much stock into not enough time in Denmark. But this idea of Hygge is really intriguing, and I almost wonder if it’s because we, in English, in America, don’t have a term or a belief in it.
In Denmark, Hygge is just there. Everybody knows what it is, and everybody knows when it’s happening. Do we not know how to recognize our own version of Hygge in America? Do we need to apply a definition to that feeling and make sure to point it out when it occurs?
That sounds silly, but it might not be far-fetched. Maybe we just need to be more aware of when we’re feeling warm and happy and cozy and loved and hold on to that and call it out to the world.
I’m not suggesting next time you’re having a summer picnic in the park with friends or gathered around a table for Christmas dinner that you need to yell “THIS IS SO HYGGE” (though that does have a fun-sounding ring to it…).
But maybe just knowing what Hygge is and recognizing it in one’s own life is a good start. Because it seems like once you recognize it is happening, you can put a word to it and thoroughly enjoy the situation. Maybe tying it to this word makes you think: “Wow, I’m so, so lucky to be this happy.”
Then, maybe, it makes you discuss and reflect on how fortunate and happy you are. Maybe that will slowly remind everyone to really take every day seriously and enjoy every little thing in our lives and to never waste time being sad or angry.
I have no idea if that would work. But I’m willing to give an American version of Hygge a shot. Are you?