Hygge – A word difficult to translate and to pronounce for non-Scandinavians. It describes a mood or a feeling about coziness, warmth, enjoying the simplicity and conviviality of small everyday moments… Or the art of living well.
“A UK college has started teaching students the Danish concept of hygge – said to make homes nicer and people happier. But what exactly is it and is it exportable? Sitting by the fire on a cold night, wearing a woolly jumper, while drinking mulled wine and stroking a dog – probably surrounded by candles. That’s definitely “hygge”. Eating home-made cinnamon pastries. Watching TV under a duvet. Tea served in a china set. Family get-togethers at Christmas. They’re all hygge too.
The Danish word, pronounced “hoo-ga”, is usually translated into English as “cosiness”. But it’s much more than that, say its aficionados – an entire attitude to life that helps Denmark to vie with Switzerland and Iceland to be the world’s happiest country.
Morley College, in central London, is teaching students how to achieve hygge as part of its Danish language course. “We have long, cold winters in Denmark,” says lecturer Susanne Nilsson. “That influences things. Hygge doesn’t have to be a winter-only thing, but the weather isn’t that good for much of the year.”
With as little as four sunshine hours a day in the depths of winter, and average temperatures hovering around 0C, people spend more time indoors as a result, says Nilsson, meaning there’s greater focus on home entertaining.
“Hygge could be families and friends getting together for a meal, with the lighting dimmed, or it could be time spent on your own reading a good book,” she says. “It works best when there’s not too large an empty space around the person or people.” The idea is to relax and feel as at-home as possible, forgetting life’s worries.
The recent growth in Scandinavian-themed restaurants, cafes and bars in the UK is helping to export hygge, she adds, with their intimate settings, lack of uniformity in decor and concentration on comforting food. Most customers won’t have heard of the term, but they might get a sense of it.”
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Photo in top banner: Skandinavisk