Hygge. Before you waste five minutes trying to figure out how to say that, it’s pronounced HOO-guh, and it is basically the philosophy that puts the Danes routinely at the top of every study as the happiest nation in the world, despite the fact that it is dark and cold there for most of the year. Basically, hygge is a concept of family- and home-oriented coziness that strongly features homemade food, comfy clothes, warm socks, blankets, candles, and spending intentional time with the people you care about. The Danish people have elevated this to a national standard, around which the whole culture revolves.
I started out on my quest for hygge on a whim, really. Work life was functioning at a resting temperature of HIGH STRESS ALL THE TIME, which left me without the emotional motivation to go out or “be social.” I just wanted to retreat into the hobbit hole of my apartment and shut out the world. Wandering around social media in a quest to not do whatever I was supposed to be doing, I stumbled upon this article about hygge. That article led to several more, which led to a Pinterest board, which led to the purchase (and reading) of The Little Book of Hygge, by Meik Wiking.
I read all about the importance of light (and good lighting–no hospital-style, industrial lighting for the Danes, oh no.) I read about the importance of creating a comfortable and cozy place to relax and simply be. I read about a cultural way of thinking that put the process and journey of spending time with people you care about before anything else. It’s the idea of “less is more.” “Quality over quantity.” The Little Book of Hygge threw out examples like making food with a few friends (even if the end product is a disaster), sitting around the kitchen table and playing games while drinking hot chocolate and eating homemade cookies, snuggling up in sweats with a blanket and a good book.
I was hooked. I wanted that. I wanted my home to be a place that was warm and cozy, where people came, and we made memories and shared each other’s lives. I wanted to slow down my life to make time for things like board games. I wanted hygge.
My first attempts started out small. I made the pilgrimage to IKEA and bought a bunch of candles and invited a friend over to make fondue. We spent a ridiculous amount of money on all the right cheeses to make a real Swiss fondue–and then we sat for two hours around the fondue pot and caught up on the past three months of life. It was slow. It was natural. It was amazing. And I wanted more.
Armed with this first small success, my book about hygge, and an article from thekichn.com about how to host a crappy dinner party, (it’s a great article–read it here!), I started making it a part of my life. Whenever someone suggested getting together–the unspoken American subtext being “at a restaurant or coffee shop”–I always jumped at the opportunity, and offered to host as my house. I sent out text message invitations for “B.Y.O.S.” (Bring Your Own Slippers) events. I got out a big pile of blankets whenever people were coming over. I stocked up on hot chocolate and coffee. I lit candles–so many candles! I bought some games at Goodwill and had people over to play Scrabble. I got really good at fifteen minute cleaning, and told people that, while my house may be a little dirty, it was full of love.
And do you know what? All my friends really liked it. They didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t sweep my kitchen floor or that the cream cheese, cherry hand pies didn’t really turn out. Everyone agreed toward the end of the night that it was fun, and we really should do it again.
I think our lives are so fast and so Instagram-ed, that we’ve forgotten that everyone else is imperfect, too. Oh, I know when I say it, you think, “Well, duh. Of course nobody’s perfect,” but in practice, it’s easy to believe that the pictures we see on social media are the way everyone’s life actually is. You find yourself thinking, “I must be the only person who can’t get it together and leaves my purse and shoes right by the door as soon as I come in” and “I must be the only person who can’t figure out how to hang a really nifty, chic portrait collage wall…”
But really–we’re all in that boat. We’re all standing and looking at the picture of the cupcakes on Pinterest, then the disaster on our counters and thinking, “Well. That didn’t work.” We’re all just little, imperfect people, doing what we can. Messing up. Making mistakes. Trying again anyway.
What we need, more than perfect lives, are people who share our imperfect lives with us. I think that, at its core, is what makes hygge so powerful to me. It’s inviting people in. It’s dropping masks of things none of us can be, anyway. It’s putting people ahead of image. It’s making real memories–not an airbrushed Instagram version. It’s just–hygge.