Hygge; the new Danish trend sweeping through media suggesting that a few knitted blankets and a good book infront of the fire will solve all our issues in life. Except it won’t and that’s not even what hygge is. If I was part of the cultures that contain hygge I might feel insulted that something held dear was being sold as the newest capitalist tool, and I’m not (well, maybe rather distantly), but I’m still rather cynical about this new trend.
I’m not cynical about hygge itself, instead I am frustrated that something that should be common sense has become some kind of radical counter-cultural way of life that we have to reinvent into a fashion before people can understand, and still they miss the point.*
Hygge… goes far in illuminating the Danish soul. In essence, hygge means creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people around you… – preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life. Perhaps the Danish idea of hygge explains why Danes are often considered the happiest people in the world?
– Visit Denmark
This description of Danish culture is not a fashion, it’s not a fad, or a trend. This is common sense. When in our history did people decide that “creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people” was a bad thing? Answer: they didn’t, but our priorities certainly shifted, our lives took a turn, and we forgot what was important. We lost the common joy of life and love, and instead became distracted by getting more, more of everything, but predominantly more stuff, more money, more space in a house we have filled with stuff, more clothes, more shoes, more food, even (although less frequently) more experiences to photograph and show to more people for more likes and comments and retweets and BLEURGH!
I tend to connect this issue largely with what I experience as a millennial. Millennials are often either praised or condemned in wild generalisations, but this trend for hygge suggests the issues I see in my own generation as something that stretches out far broader into western culture overall. Amy & Frog Orr-Ewing wrote a book that looked at millennials and suggested that despite as a whole being hugely aware of trends, fashion, labels, social media, etc, what they are looking for is ultimately a sense of authenticity. Millennials know when they are being sold something, but sometimes they are willing to be sold it anyway because they hope maybe it might work. Hygge feels like that. It is a word that will sell blankets, candles, cashmere jumpers, and Scandinavian Christmas decor but brings with it a hope of connection, the simple things, family and friends, love. We are willing to believe the sales talk because we are as a generation, and a culture, are severely lacking in these things.
The video below has some things to say about the millennial generation, and what went wrong, but I would ask that you watch it all before judging too fast (quite an ask at 15 minutes). What I took from it was that there are choices to be made, and that what seems like common sense is a little less than common.
Common sense would suggest that really what will make us happy is having enough food, shelter, and supplies to survive without worry that we’re going to run out. Common sense suggests that when we can trust those around us to love us and care for us in the good times and bad we feel more secure. Common sense suggests that adverts that claim to have the miracle to make you *happy* are to be honest bullshit. Hygge is just one cultures common sense response to the questions “What makes me experience joy? What is important in life? What should I prioritise and give time to?” Common sense answers look at what is often common in life when we pause to look: people, conversation, and appreciation of the simple things.
Please don’t fall for the sales pitch that what you need is the luxury; that cosy blanket doesn’t have to be new, tartan, knitted, or the latest colour palette. It’s just a blanket, the point is to be warm. You don’t need high-price cheese fondue, homemade (read slaved and sweated over) biscuits, and the best wine. It’s food. Be fed and be grateful you’re not hungry. You don’t need to look photo-perfect to spend time with friends tucked up around a fire as if everything is perfect. They are your friends, they don’t care what you’re wearing, and the point is time together. You don’t need to prove it to anyone, you don’t need to check-in or instagram it. Just enjoy it. That is hygge. That is common sense.
In the video above Sinek suggests we haven’t learned the skills required for deep connection with other people, and we numb ourselves through all sorts of technology. This is probably true. However, you have a choice! Turn off your phone. Look around a room. Talk to the person right there. Deal with the mess so you can enjoy the simplicity. Stop worrying about how things are meant to look and start to appreciate the common joy: an apple (not the brand!), a catch up with an old friend, the ideas you come across when you are bored and life is quiet.
I’m not suggesting that’s easy. Like I’ve said: common sense isn’t that common. Nor is this some rose-tinted view of the past as if people had some secret wisdom once. I think everyone forgets what is important sometimes, we get stressed, we envy what others have, we want to look like we have it all together when we don’t.
This isn’t a quick fix article with all the answers, but I do recommend starting small this year with a change here and there. Maybe stop photographing your food? If you’re not a chef, it’s not helping you in any way for the world to see your perfectly positioned pomegranate blah blah. Maybe move your phone out of your bedroom? You don’t want to be woken at 3am by drunken exes anyway. Maybe make a phone call instead of a text, share a meal instead of a coffee, visit family instead of the latest foreign beach, go for a walk instead of playing a computer game, create something instead of internet shopping… the possibilities are endless but all have one thing in common: they make connections rather than isolate us.
Hygge is not a bad thing, it’s common sense, but you can’t buy it or get it by having a slightly Danish look to your newly bought decor. Even the Danes don’t buy it; it is part of their soul, and you can’t buy soul, you can only connect to it. Last I looked souls are pretty common, there are billions of us, all individual, all wanting to making lasting relationships. It’s simple really, we all just need reminding occasionally.
*Also as the word hygge in Danish is partly taken from Norwegian, and is used in a wide variety of ways, I wouldn’t take any of the books, how-to’s, etc, too seriously. The history of hygge being used in Britain is amusingly manipulative to say the least, but the word literally seems to translate as something close to “fun”. Take the whole thing with a pinch of salt. However, because politically Denmark has some big differences you could say that hygge is related to being able to enjoy life rather than just survive, for example, basic needs are met for everyone by the state. Perhaps we need a bit more revolution before we can truly understand hygge… Read more here.