18 Jul 2017

The heart-warming lesson of hygge

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:08 pm on 18 July 2017

For Danish people, the sense of cosiness, contentment and connection that comes from appreciating simple pleasures is an everyday art form known as 'hygge'.

'Hygge' (which is in Danish a noun, a verb and an adjective) is a universal impulse we can all benefit from honouring, says Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of The Book of Hygge.

The literal English definition of hygge is 'belonging-togetherness', Thomsen Brits says.

Essentially it's a feeling of being warm, safe and sheltered that is both psychological and physical.

The concept originated in 19th-century Denmark, when what was a large empire lost a lot of territory. To counteract mourning for the loss of outward space, Danish people were encouraged to appreciate the beauty of smallness and enclosure.

Recently, the word has been hijacked recently by marketers and advertisers as a handy buzzword which appeals to our longing for warmth, peace and stability, says Thomsen Brits.

Last year it was named one of the words of the year by both the Collins and Oxford dictionaries. 

This commercialisation drives her round the bend.

"Hygge really is facilitated by small means. You don't need to go out and buy a lot of stuff in order to hygge ... Embedded in hygge is a disdain for hierarchy and conspicuous consumption."

"Maybe it's time for a shift away from stuff and also our preoccupation with productivity to a new paradigm where we focus less on the relentless pursuit of happiness and material goods and maybe more on contentment and interconnectedness."

Hygge is an experience of belonging to the moment which can be experienced alone or with other people,  Thomsen Brits.says.

Sitting around a warm fire with group of friends, or even on your own with a cup of tea or a glass of wine can be 'hygge-litic'.

"It's about giving value to the ordinary things we do – whether that's putting a chair outside to sit in the sun or singing in a choir or holding hands in the back of a cinema…"

"I suppose hygge is really what we invest the moment with and how we pay attention to the small details and to the privileges of safety… a brief restorative pause and a moment to relax, really that's all it is."

To hygge alone, Thomsen Brits suggests taking a candlelit bath, getting into bed with a book or watching a film.

"Or look for the cats. Cats are a source of deep comfort. They're very hygge-litic creatures."

If you don't have a cat on hand?  Simply slow down for a bit.

"Put distractions and cares aside just for a moment and make time for yourself and each other. Create a circle of warmth and a point of focus – whether that's a pot of tea or a bottle of wine or a board game or a pack of cards – and come to your senses, think about how you're touched by everything around you … Recognise that that precious moment will pass, and simply celebrate it."

More of us practising hygge on a personal level could foster a sense of connectedness and solidarity on an international scale, Thomsen Brits says.

"We're all in this uncertainty together so as we enter this period of intense order and disruption maybe hygge can introduce a different kind of force to animate the structures that might appear when the old order is crumbling."

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