Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The Real Hygge

'Hygge' is the new buzz word. It used to be that only the most serious of Scandiphiles would have heard of this abstract idea imported from Denmark but now there seems to be a new book about hygge published every week. Every lifestyle column has a guide to hygge, there is hygge fashion, hygge blankets, hygge candles and hygge cafes and bars serving hygge food and hygge drinks. The hygge overload has left us feeling both captivated and confused at the same time. I am not an expert but it is not a new concept for me either; my Danish mother-in-law introduced me to the idea of hygge over 20 years ago and extolled its benefits long before it was fashionable or we had any idea of how to pronounce it ('hoogah' is probably the simplest phonetic guide in case you were wondering!)

Far from feeling pleased with the prospect of the UK embracing one of the best Danish exports since Carlsberg I have instead been feeling a little a bit peeved at the  inevitable 'cashing in' from commercialism. It is easy to lose the true essence of hygge and be left with just the material trappings and only a basic understanding of what it really means. One reason for this is the translation itself limits the explanation. Hygge is one of those words that does not translate into English. We do not have an equivilant word and though many put forward 'cosiness' as a sufficient synonym, hygge is far more complex than this twee interpretation suggests. A better explanation might be 'a sense of well-being'; 'being at peace with your own company'; 'a feeling of togetherness in a group of like-minded friends' or 'an appreciation of the simple pleasures in life'.  

You do not need to make any expensive purchases of cashmere throws or wildly overpriced candles, neither do you need to install a log burner to achieve hygge. What you do need to invest in, however, is time. That most precious of commodities is key to hygge. Taking time for ourselves, spending quality time with our family, or to gather with friends, is a luxury few of us can afford. Everyone is always trying to cram more and more work into less and less time and the lines between work and play are increasingly blurred. Weekends become the overspill of chores and errands, and even when we do get precious free time we do not feel that going for a walk, having a candle-lit bath or curling up with a good book is somehow a worthy use of it. Real hygge is contentment with 'just being' and I think most British people find it hard to give themselves permission to step off the treadmill and stop the constant multi-tasking. 

Hygge is not just for Christmas either. Its introduction to our shores seems to have been inextricably tied together with the season. A real fire, candlelight and fluffy blankets do much to help create a hygge atmosphere but it is possible to experience hygge during the warmer months too. Hygge is just as much about a walk in the spring rain and splashing in April puddles or a summer evening barbecue with friends and watching the sun set. 

To me, at the heart of hygge is being kind to yourself. It is an understanding that a little care is needed if we are to store up emotional well-being in preparation for a real or metaphorical winter. Hygge is the opposite of self-deprivation but neither is it about excess either. Real hygge is unsophisticated; there is no room for pretension or competition. It really doesn't matter if the laundry needs doing or piles of leaves are choking the lawn. Leave it. Hunker down in a cosy nook, play a board game with the family or put the kettle on and invite friends round for a cuppa. Shelter the spirit and indulge in a little hygge time.