“Where’s my hygge jumper?” my husband said as he rummaged through the wardrobe.
It was at that moment that I realised two things about hygge.
1) Hygge has gone mainstream.
Over the past year, I noticed more writers referring to this Scandinavian term, meaning something like cosiness, wellbeing, safety. If you were to draw hygge, it would be a family gathered around a log fire on a wintry day, eating a roast dinner and apple crumble with custard, laughing together and playing boardgames. It is light in the face of darkness, refuge, contentment.
Hygge is a word for such a time as this. For nations struggling economically, with formerly-stable governments wobbling alarmingly and terrorists seemingly undefeatable, hygge is a welcome alternative. We can gather together with our family and friends, and shut out the darkness and danger. All of this is subconsciously contained in hygge.
If even my non-fashion-following 40-year-old husband is using the word, and attempting to pronounce it properly, then – believe me – it’s gone mainstream.
Is hygge worth the hype? I’m conflicted.
On the one hand: the obsession with hygge can feel like we’re escaping from the world rather than engaging with it. It seems pretty crass to be tweeting about the delights of the cosy fire in our safe home when there are refugee children sleeping rough all over Europe.
On the other hand: media coverage is relentless, and there is only so much of the world’s burden we can shoulder at any one time. Even in hard times, it makes sense to spend time with friends and family, and focus for a while on trivia, comfort and love. It refuels us for the long winter days – both literally and metaphorically. When we are world-weary, we need to retreat to re-engage.
And there is inherent value in taking a cold, dark season and bringing light and warmth. It’s good to celebrate primal pleasures of family and friends, safety and wellbeing.
But it’s easy to take something of value, and twist it into something else.
2) Hygge has become commercialised.
The hygge craze reveals our understandable desire for happy families, simple pleasures, a safe world, protection from all kinds of darkness. Enter the advertisers.
When I search for hygge on Google, what appears – even before the articles trying to define it or tell you how to pronounce it – are the adverts for ‘how to hygge’ books; cosy socks; home-baking recipes and a thousand candles that promise to guarantee authentic Danish happiness.
We’ve done what we always do. “We take paradise and put up a parking lot,” Joni Mitchell complained. With hygge, we’ve taken cosiness and put up a catalogue. We’ve turned hygge into something to purchase or Pinterest. But we can’t buy hygge, whatever the marketers claim. Candlelight is not the secret to contentment: stopping work to spend time with friends and family is. In other words: true hygge is nothing new; it is Sabbath.
The enthusiasm for hygge reveals our real desire. We don’t need cinnamon-scented votives, jersey wide-leg trousers, themed mugs – we need rest.
How to find Hygge
I’ve been reading recently about Sabbath, reminding myself it’s both a gift and a discipline. Sabbath means taking a day a week to rest from work, trusting in God’s provision, not our productivity. It’s not inoculating ourselves from reality by escaping in hours of TV or social media, but a time to reconnect with God, ourselves and our friends or family. And, funnily enough, practising Sabbath brings about that longed-for hygge-feeling of contentment and wellbeing.
I always struggle with the darker months of the year, and I’m still learning to winter well. My temptation is to hide from winter in a flurry of Christmas-excused purchasing, always adding, adding, adding to distract from the emptiness. We add more work, we add more things. We look for our hygge jumpers. But in a bloated, consumerist, workaholic society, we need to be looking to subtract from, not add to our lives.
Yesterday I took a break from writing and chores, and tore myself away from my iPhone. Picking up my thickest coat, I went out into the garden. The leaves have been slowly turning, half-green, half-red, overdue for autumn, clinging to the vestiges of summer. The sunlight pierced through the trees, and I squinted up at the branches, which were swaying slightly in the breeze. Insects buzzed around the dying fruit on the brambles. The birds squabbled overhead. I witnessed my husband and son play their first game of conkers, and shared in their laughter.
I found God in the shadows and light, the fruit and decay. I focused on the beauty of the clouds, and my soul refuelled. I stood, snuggled in my coat, breathing in the cold, fresh air. In the midst of all this, I caught myself feeling it – contentment and safety, that longed-for temporary freedom from worries and work, inner warmth on a cold day – hygge.
We’ve been searching for Sabbath by buying socks. We’re trying to buy it instead of practising it.
To observe Sabbath is a biblical command AND currently very fashionable: a double win. So put down your hygge catalogues, cancel the velvet cushions, and practise Sabbath instead.