What We Can Learn From ‘Hygge’

Yasmin Ayture discusses ‘hygge’ as a form of happiness, and how we can attain it.

By Yasmin Ayture

Hygge is a Danish word which can be roughly translated into English to mean ‘cosy’, and more generally refers to situations in which a person, either alone or in a social setting, is fully ‘present’, aware of their surroundings, enjoying the little things.

There is a well-known feeling which is loved by many – the warmth you feel when you are indoors, sheltered from the rain which you can hear outside. The safety, comfort, and coziness felt in this situation is an instance of ‘hygge’. It refers to being content, which is not defined in terms of intense happiness or excitement but is instead characterised as a more day-to-day feeling of being and feeling good.

As happiness can be felt in different ways by different people, this feeling will depend on who you are and on what ‘type’ of happiness most appeals to you. It can be argued that being able to gain great contentment from small moments in life is the first step towards leading a calm and more fulfilled life. Having a coffee at home or at a café, reading a good book under the light of a lamp, going for a walk at sunrise whilst it seems like everyone else is sleeping. These are small, attainable, and simple moments which contribute to people’s feeling of contentment in life, according to the author of ‘Hygge – The Danish Art of Happiness’, Marie Tourell Søderberg.

However, when reading this book, it comes as a shock that ‘hygge’ – a feeling which is also attainable through good recipes, or calm songs with the right tempo – has been criticized by both right and left-wing parties in Denmark. The left-wing believes that ‘hygge’ is associated with introversion, and encourages individuals and nations on an aggregate level to be more inward-facing and less willing to connect with other cultures (Søderberg, 2016, p.196). Yet, ‘hygge’ can be found by anyone in any country. In Turkey, perhaps the elements used to create a ‘hygge’ moment will be different from those found in the UK or in Denmark. Perhaps a hot traditional drink of Turkish ‘salep’ in the winter with some friends will conjure this moment for them. Regardless of which form ‘hygge’ takes around the world, universally, it is the art of being happy with what the present has to offer, and enjoying the cosy and wonderful moments it brings.

On the other hand, the right-wing criticises  ‘hygge’ for being ‘bad for productivity, effectiveness, and development’ (Søderberg, 2016, p.196). This statement reflects the mindset that Robert F. Kennedy denounced when he said in 1968 that “Gross Domestic Product [economic growth] measures everything except what makes life worthwhile”, hereby reminding us of the value of non-monetary aspects of life, such as time spent with your family and other small moments of contentment. Although the right-wing government in Denmark isn’t wrong to focus on the value of economic growth, considering that the economy is one of the key components of sustainable development, it may not be such a black-and-white matter.

Hard work needs to be met with equivalent amounts of joy, and embracing the feeling of ‘hygge’ can bring us that joy, which can arise at any moment, in any environment, according to Søderberg.

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