What the hygge?

I can feel the pride of my Danish ancestors for bringing the concept of hygge to the world at a time when it is sorely needed. There is probably no single word in English that encompasses the meaning of hygge, but it can be described as a kind of coziness, conviviality and comfort that fills you with feelings of contentment. The word hygge is etymologically related to the English word “hug.”

My great-grandfather John (or “Jens”) emigrated from Denmark in 1872 and married an Indiana girl whose parents were Swiss, and eventually he fathered my maternal grandmother. My Danish roots, however, do not help me with the correct Danish pronunciation of hygge, a sound that defies English phonetic spelling. It goes something like “hue-guh.” Ask a Dane.

The pursuit of happiness may be an “unalienable right,” but I might settle for the pursuit of hygge. It is a huggy concept about finding pleasure in small, simple things, such as the comfort of warm woolen socks on a cold night. Atmosphere is everything.

Although hygge has seen a discouraging commercialization of late, it seems to me that what strikes your hygge chord is an intimately personal matter. What is hygge for me may not be hygge for you.

Hygge has its time and place. Maybe the best hygge is unexpected. Not every time and place can be made to conform to a hygge-ish ideal. Our world is full of hardships and suffering, injustices and difficult choices, controversies, annoyances and conflicts. It is hygge to turn off the nightly news, but that world does not go away.

Still, we do well to remember that it is the thunderstorm outside that magnifies the hygge moments in our personal refuge.

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