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Thinking about Hygge

Every year in December I select a word to live with and explore for the next twelve months, starting on New Year’s Day. It is my form of resolution setting. Last year I picked Hygge. For those of you who don’t know this Danish word, it generally means a feeling of comfort and coziness. Hygge is also defined as creating feelings of contentment and well-being. While it does not have a direct translation into English, which is often the case with words from other languages who have such wonderfully descriptive meanings, what I’ve listed is a fair approximation. Over the years I’ve searched and found some wonderful examples like Gigil in Tagalog which describes a feeling of cuteness overload, or Ya’aburnee in Arabic, describing the wish to die before someone so you don’t have to experience life without them, or the German word Fernweh which is a feeling of homesickness for a place you have never been to but dream of going. I could go on and on because the world is full of ideas which have no word that is exactly the same in another language. The world is full of rich descriptive words that evoke a feeling or bring up a situation you remember experiencing.

When I picked Hygge, I was focused on making my life physically hygge. I bought some candles, battery operated because I have no intention of starting a fire (that would be very un-hygge) and some twinkle lights and a new lap blanket that feels soft and silky and some essential oils like orange peel and balsam fir and I also got some cinnamon, cloves, anise, and cardamom to put in a pot on the stove to boil in order to make the air smell nice. All winter I snuggled in with pine garlands and amaryllis bulbs growing. It was lovely. Then it was spring, and I had to stop and think about what it means to be cozy, comfortable and contented when it isn’t cold outside.

What I realized is that contentment and comfort are easily transferred, we can always find things that make us feel contented. The scent of someone’s perfume or cologne when they are special to you, the way it feels to have the sun on your skin after a long winter, the way the first rains of spring bring about the scent of newly growing things and wet earth, etc. The concept of cozy is something altogether different, though. Cozy brings up images of being snuggled deep in warm blankets on a soft couch with a cup of something warm to drink and the glow of low lights to gently push back the darkness of winter. How does one create a feeling of coziness when it is spring and you want to throw open the doors and windows and let in the fresh air and clean and move and do things instead of sitting still and relaxing? I realized through the spring that it wasn’t about the physical space as much as it was the mental space.

When I took hygge with me on a year long ride, I didn’t realize how many things made me feel wrapped up in a metaphorical warmth. I learned the things that make me feel welcomed, the things that give me a sense of belonging, of pride, and the feeling of both loving and being loved were all the mental version of the snuggly blankets and warm drink. At the beginning of each season, I had to stop and think about what it meant to be comfortable and contented and cozy. I had to stop and think instead of just reacting and making snap judgements because I had to feel into the hygge of each situation. I am aware of how ‘new age’ that may sound, but the reality of living with a word like hygge as your guide means you have to feel things. Which is why it was such a powerful word to choose. I learned to stop and think about what each experience and each set of emotions were giving me. Was I tired out by something? Possibly necessary, but not hygge. Was I relieved to have something over with? Normal reaction to something you don’t love doing, but that also meant it was probably not hygge. As I narrowed things down into hygge and not hygge categories, I stated to see that the hygge things all had something in common. They were all things that made me feel happy, whether that meant productive, or helpful, or loved wasn’t the key part. It was that each of these things gave me a feeling of happiness. My hygge lifestyle hinged on doing things that made me happy. Obviously, I can’t do things that make me happy all the time but I can make sure to fit in things that make me happy so my overall days are much more hygge and I am content and comfortable with the way my life is going…and if you stop and think about it, isn’t that all anyone really wants?

If you want to see what I picked as this year’s word, I published a short piece on Vocal recently, feel free to check it out.

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