Can “Hygge” Still Work for Us?


Forget bird. Forget Grease. Hygge is the word. Thing is, can the word survive a pandemic?

For those of you who think Danish is something you wash down with coffee, hygge is pronounced by the consonant-happy Danes like so: “HOO-gah.” In English, it translates to “cozy.”

Right out of the gate, I prefer the sound of hygge over cozy. When I hear “cozy,” I think of overpaid realtors who love the wimpy euphemism to describe a cramped apartment. Hygge, on the other hand, sounds like something privates might bark in reply to a drill sergeant (hoo-gah!). Or something a runner might hawk up and spit out to clear his air passage (hoo-gah!).

I first discovered this word in The New York Times via this feature. What it all boils down to is comfort at home. Nothing’s rotten in Denmark if you’ve got a fire blazing, a few dozen candles flickering, a cup of hot coffee, and, of course, big warm socks to fend the cold from your most distant provinces.

You’ll want some porridge, too (you guessed it—Goldilocks was Danish). Hearty stuff with ingredients like rye, barley, black lentils, and bits of pumpkin and turkey. And if it’s late in the day, you can dispose of the coffee and substitute in. You know. Something appropriately Nordic (read: “alcoholic”) like glogg.

What I liked least in the article was it’s not so subtle advertisements for a couple of books on the topic. And its headline, telling Crazy Marie Kondo, the neatnik apparatchik , to move over and give hygge its 30 seconds of fame.

Blah, blah, blah. If you’re hyggelig (the adjective form, pronounced HOO-gah-lee) and you know it, you don’t need no stinking books. Just sort of take the article’s cue and grab the things that make you feel home for the holidays (“holidays” meaning “any day you’re not at work,” which, in March of 2020, translates to “every day of the week unless you’re a UPS driver”).

This is all guaranteed stuff, this hygge. The Happiness Institute (yes, Virginia, it does exist) has proclaimed the Danes princes of world happiness year in and year out. How do they do it? A whole lot of hygge. That and bacon.

Alas, 2020 has hygge on the run. Can we take pandemic-induced cabin fever and turn it into hygge? Is the happiness of it all that potent?

And while we’re at it, I might as well ask this: If hygge is the word despite everything, will we have enough toilet paper to survive all that fireside eating and quaffing, especially if some of our considerate neighbors have stocked their entire basements and attics with the stuff?

OK, one better and a finishing thought: Do you have the mental discipline to enjoy hygge when it is a government-enforced hygge with nary a Dane in sight (unless you’re reading Hamlet)?

Not easily answered, any of these questions. But still, if you can make a punch bowl of lemonade from an entire crate of lemons, you can find some value in this entire concept.

If home is our lot, let’s love it a whole lot. In kid parlance, let’s play “Pretend” and hygge until the cows come home.

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