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Winter Doldrums Got You Down? Have Some ‘Hygge’

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
January 30, 2012

I don’t speak a lick of Danish, but recently learned a great word that describes a very particular feeling. Hygge (pronounced “hYOOguh”?) often translates to “cozy” — though it connotes much more. From what I gather, it means something like “fireplace warmth with candles and family and friends and food, tucked under blankets on a snowy day, cup-of- coffee conversation, scarf-snuggle, squiggly, warm baby love.” Or something like that.

Wanting to know what it looks like, I asked Danish photographer Joakim Eskildsen to sift through his pictures and send me ones that say “hygge.”

I’ve heard claims that Denmark is one of the world’s happiest countries — despite dark winter days with only six hours of sunlight. How one might begin to quantify that, I have no idea.

One semi-recent Forbes article explained a British study: Scandinavian countries, the study showed, are some of the most prosperous — and prosperity, the logic goes, is correlated with happiness. (Make of that what you will.)

“But happiness is much more than money,” the Forbes article reads. “It’s being healthy, free from pain, being able to take care of yourself. It’s having good times with friends and family.”

Danes, it seems, have all of that going on. In particular, there’s that last bit about friends and family. That’s where the ever-important hygge comes in.

One Lonely Planet guide to Copenhagen has a whole page devoted to it.

Usually it is translated as “cosy” but hygge means much more than that. Hygge refers to a sense of friendly, warm companionship of a kind fostered when Danes gather together in groups of two or more, although you can actually hygge yourself if there is no one else around. The participants don’t even have to be friends (indeed, you might only just have met), but if the conversation flows — avoiding potentially divisive topics like politics and the best method to pickle herring — the bonhomie blossoms, toasts are raised before an open fire (or at the very least, some candles), you are probably coming close.

Bars and restaurants have fires or candles blazing through the year, and a constant, generous supply of alcohol.

What kind of hygge is happening in real time? Consult the Twitter. With the semi-accurate help of Google translate, here’s how some hygge hashtags translate:

“Arrived at the cabin, sitting in front of the fireplace with a book and biscuits.” — @JohanneBoat

“Grandmother, grandfather, mother and father for coffee and cake in an hour.” — @NinaVindel

“Will spend as much as possible of my day off Friday under the blanket with books, magazines, movies and tea in gallons.” — @LiseRoest

“Taking a coffee and a walk with someone from work.” — @ojholb

Live in a warm and sunny place? You can have hygge, too. Wherever you are, share how your hygge looks in our Flickr group! [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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