We’re not sure how this happened, but a certain Minnesota lifestyle is trending, much to its devotees’ befuddlement.
Hygge is hot.
There are a raft of new books about how to hygge, stories in the New York Times, Pinterest pages, blog posts and … oh, sorry, what’s hygge, you say?
Hygge is a Danish word (say HUE-gah) for a particular atmosphere grounded in the joys of simple pleasures.
“The best word is cozy,” said Vagn Jensen of Richfield, who had stopped by the Danish American Center in Minneapolis on a recent afternoon. “But that isn’t everything. You have to feel comfortable.”
But aren’t cozy and comfortable two words for the same thing? And doesn’t swaddling ourselves in crocheted afghans and sipping soup sum up the Minnesota lifestyle from November through March?
Mmmm, not quite — at least not when it comes to hygge.
“It’s being comfortable and feeling at home, even if it’s a place you’ve never been before,” said Erik Bruun, a native Dane on the board of the Danish American Center.
Bruun is surprised by the sudden attention driven by the hygge trend. But he’s pleased that Danes are being noticed, especially in Minnesota, where they tend to be overshadowed by their Nordic brethren.
“There are about 105,000 Danes in Minnesota, compared to hundreds of thousands of Norwegians and Swedes,” he said. But no matter. “The Swedes have their impressive museum, and the Norwegians have their beautiful church,” he said, referring to the American Swedish Institute and the Mindekirken.
The Danish center? Well, it’s a rather ordinary brick building off Lake Street near the Mississippi River, built in 1924 as a home “for elderly deserving Danes.”
Yet Bruun said with a smile: “But we’re the fun people.”
Which brings us back to hygge.
At its heart is a sense of conviviality, bringing people together in a warm embrace of candles, conversation and a few calories. Anelise Sawkins, a former honorary Danish consul, credits winter, especially in arctic latitudes, for hygge’s place in the culture.
“It comes out of the climate,” Sawkins said. In Denmark, that means drizzle — almost 180 days of it a year.
“There’s a need for light and color.” Candlelight counteracts the dreariness outdoors. “My mother would have a candle lit at breakfast, and I do that sometimes myself in the winter.”
But she stressed that hygge is more than candles. “You come to my house, and how do we begin? ‘Let’s go sit down.’ Why do we say that? Because then we’re all equal, all sitting at the same level. Now we’re comfortable.”
Can hygge help us cope?
It’s hard to argue against coziness, comfort and conviviality.
But why hygge? And why now? More to the point, why are we always casting about for how-to formulas to improve our lives?
Our guides have varied, from Dale Carnegie’s courses on self-improvement to Robert Fulghum’s belief that all we really need to know we learned in kindergarten, from the devotional “purpose-driven life” to the place-driven philosophy of feng shui — even to Marie Kondo’s decluttering of our homes, and thus our heads.
Some suggest that hygge is an antidote to lives spent focused on screens, whether our phones or our laptops. Others note how seasonal depression can be eased with more light, but also with a more social mind-set.
“How to Hygge” by Signe Johansen says that hygge is “about getting back to basics” with a strong connection to nature and developing skills of self-sufficiency. She urges people to get outside in all seasons, to master five ways of cooking eggs, to light many candles and to banish carpets for a cleaner, healthier environment — and an excuse to wear comfy slippers. A chef, Johansen also includes lots of recipes. (Sour Cherry Bundt Cake!)
“The Little Book of Hygge” by Meik Wiking reflects his job as CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, which focuses on gratitude and nurturing everyday happiness. His hygge advice? Eat cake often. Bring your dog to work. Wear scarves. Play board games.
Wiking also touts candles, noting that the Danish word for “spoilsport” is lyseslukker, which means “the one who extinguishes the candles.”
But for all the “how-to” advice offered, hygge is rooted more in an almost intuitive sense of what makes us feel comfortable.
“Say I’ve had a big week and I’m tired,” Sawkins said. “I might say I’m going to go home and hygge this weekend, or have a reflective time. Now, I might spend it painting a bedroom. But I’m home, puttering about where I’m comfortable, doing what I want to do.
“Hygge can’t be forced,” Bruun agreed. “It can be encouraged, but it can’t be forced.”
No, it’s all about lagom
Breaking news: Move over, hygge — 2017 is the year of lagom.
According to London’s Daily Mail, the next big trend to hit British homes this year will be lagom (say LAH-goom), a Swedish word meaning “moderation” or “just enough.” For the record, it’s more like Goldilocks and less fun than hygge.
How do we know it’s a trend? Ikea, the Swedish home furnishings giant, has a three-year project called Live Lagom to help households learn how to live more sustainably.
As with the Danes’ surprise at hygge’s trending, so staffers at the American Swedish Institute are catching up with the idea of lagom being the Next Moderate Thing. But as to beneficial aspects of lagom’s tenets, they were old hands.
“Lagom is not too much, but just what you need,” said institute President and CEO Bruce Karstadt, launching into Viking history about how the horn that served as a drinking glass could not — by virtue of its shape — be set down, but had to be passed and held.
“So each person could sip only as much as would allow everybody to have the exact same amount,” he said.
Then Naomi Crocker chimed in with a key factor: “Lagom only works on the principle that everyone buys into it,” she said.
Crocker, executive and consular services coordinator at the institute, said she’s been asking younger adults if lagom seems like a sustainable way of life in American society. Reactions are mixed. Lagom speaks to empathy and consensus.
“But such things are becoming so much more undervalued,” she said. While lagom still is a visceral part of Swedish life, “will it become outdated?”
Here’s a surefire way to mark the state of lagom:
Anyone who’s walked by a plate of sweets in Minnesota, whether in an office, at a party or civic function, knows the last piece will get divided again and again and again, because no one wants to be regarded as taking the last piece and leaving nothing for others.
So as long as that plate contains a half-inch smidgen of brownie, lagom is alive and well.