FINDING HYGGE IN COPENHAGEN

FINDING HYGGE IN COPENHAGEN – WHAT IS THIS WORD AND HOW CAN IT MAKE US HAPPY?

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As a lover of words, this one stumped me. For a while I pronounced it ‘higgy’, like ‘piggy’. But on my recent adventures to Copenhagen I’ve learnt it’s pronounced ‘hoo-guh’. And even then, whenever I said the H word to a Dane, giggles would ensue. But despite the linguistic hurdles, ‘finding hygge’ was both an intriguing and heart-warming pursuit – and I intend to channel it into my life from now on.

So, what it is? Funnily enough, when I interviewed the experts, they told me there is no direct English translation for hygge. The most literal is ‘cosiness’. In North America it might be ‘hominess’. Candles, snug-ness (possibly not a word), togetherness, comfort, lighting, atmosphere – all are important ingredients for a hyggelig experience. And the good news is that fine wine with fine friends is very hygge too. But it’s so much more. It’s a feeling, an emotion and a mindset. It’s in Danes’ DNA. And unsurprisingly, it’s now become a fad far beyond Denmark’s shores.

My favourite description of how hygge is such an intrinsic part of being Danish came from my interview with chef and author of ‘Scandinavian Comfort Food’, Trine Hahnemann. She’s appeared on the Great British Bake Off, no less. Trine told me that her grandmother would never open the door and say ‘how are you?’. Rather, she’d ask you if you wanted a coffee and something to eat. Only then, when you’re sitting down with a cuppa in hand, and perhaps with a candle on the table beside you, would the small talk follow.

Why does it all matter? Well, Danes are one of the happiest people on earth, and let’s face it, who would baulk at having a little more joy in their lives? Above all, Danes favour wellbeing over material wealth. Going out to a restaurant for dinner is a relatively new phenomenon, so I’m told; gathering round the fire with a home-cooked meal and friends is much more hygge. And it doesn’t cost a thing. Well not as much, anyway.

Chatting to the author of ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, Meik Wiking, he told me that the secret ingredient to daily contentment is that the Danes have “good conditions for good lives”. Denmark has some of the highest taxes in the world. But allegedly, this welfare system translates into a higher sense of wellbeing. Meik also told me that Danes actively look for hygge experiences – all day, every day. It’s an obsession. But I’d be happy being this kind of addict.

Critics may say cosy jumpers and candles are twee, shallow and don’t contribute to world peace. But this bah humbug approach, I think, is missing the whole essence of hygge. Stuff isn’t given much relevance. Emotional experiences are everything. I buy into that.

Back to this wonderful word, and in Wiking’s book he names some compound hygge words that have tickled me: hyggespreder (someone who spreads hygge); hyggesokker (comfy socks); and familiehygge – I’ll let you decipher that one.

Hygge – consider yourself well and truly found. Now I’m off to go and light some candles.

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