The hygge experience

Of the philosophy of enjoying the moment and letting it yield all its pleasures

April 01, 2017 08:57 pm | Updated 08:57 pm IST

170402 -Open Page - Hygge

170402 -Open Page - Hygge

‘Hygge’ is the new buzzword in the happiness-wellness discourse. The New Yorker declared 2016 the year of hygge and pointed out that in the United States alone six books were published on the subject, with seven more to follow in 2017. Denmark tops the list of the world’s happiest nations and people are beginning to ask what makes the Danes so cheerful.

The answer is hygge (pronounced “hoo-guh” ). The word dates back to the 19th century. It is derived from the Germanic word hyggja, which means to think or feel satisfied. There are no exact translations of hygge but some attempts are ‘cozy’ or ‘homely’. Or the Norwegian term hugga , which is ‘to comfort’ or ‘to console’.

It has also been linked to the English word ‘hug’ and can be seen as a form of self-hugging as well as hugging of others. It is about people, warmth and atmosphere. It may be friends sitting around a crackling fire in the midst of winter, sipping mulled wine and having deep and meaningful conversations. It may be home-knit woollen sweaters, steaming cups of tea, tables laden with food and the rooms filled with laughter. It is the essence of the Danish national character and probably what makes the Danes the happiest people in the world.

Denmark is a country marked by long, cold and dark winters. Temperatures can plummet to minus 20 degrees. So it is not surprising that hygge is most often associated with creating warm homes in the midst of freezing winters.

What can hygge mean for India, a country where temperatures soar? I grew up in hot Rajasthan and have some understanding of what summer hygge should feel like. A friend said: “It’s the pleasures of summer for me — crispy white mulmul kurtis, the aroma of mogra or rajnigandha wafting through the house.” For another, the summer is associated with “buttermilk, panna, nimbu paani, mangoes and phalsa.”

Sleeping on the terrace on a khaat with a thin sheet over you, and waking up to the sight of peacocks dancing, is summer hygge. Yellow amaltas flowers, flaming ones like gulmohar and purple jacarandas, all represent summer hygge. Long evening walks, tall glasses of cold coffee topped with ice cream, cousins having fun in naani’s garden, are all experiences and memories associated with summer hygge.

At its heart hygge is about enjoying the moment and allowing the moment to yield up its treasure house of pleasures. It is a concept based on refuge, on the home as a sanctuary. It is an opening up of your heart and hearth to family and friends, providing them with a safe haven, an ear willing to listen, a warm bed to sleep on.

The spirit of hygge is the spirit of comfort, abundance and contentment. It encourages us to connect with the present moment and savour it.

To hygge is to cherish the mundane, the ordinary and the everyday pleasures of life. It is a commitment to be present fully in the moment. It is an act of ‘cherishing’ others and yourself.

In a deeply divided and troubled world where we seem to be hurtling towards some dark destination, hygge is an invitation to slow down, to deepen and nourish the roots of our closest personal relationships, including our relationship to ourselves. Hygge does not come with a ‘to-do’ list, or with maxims and mantras — though gardening, cooking, and lighting up scented candles are very hygge at a superficial level. Hygge is kindness and compassion. It is valuing the community, creating safe spaces where our authentic selves can be revealed without fear of judgment and criticism. It is embracing the weather, whatever the weather may be.

As Hans Christian Andersen wrote, “‘Just living isn’t enough,’ said the butterfly, ‘one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.’” Warmth, affection and true innocence represent the spirit of hygge.

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