Let’s talk a bit about hygge. (I’ve seen pronunciation keys ranging from hoo-guh to hue-guh to hoo-gah, but one source tells me emphatically that it’s not hoo-gah, and the Visit Denmark page tells me it’s hooga… it’s untranslatable enough into any one English word that we can’t even settle on how to pronounce it using English pronunciation rules! I’m going to go with Oxford dictionary’s pronunciation key, which tells me there are two ways of pronouncing it, somewhere between hue-guh and hju-geh, I believe, the “j” being a soft “y” type of J, if you know what I mean. And as for stress, I’m pretty sure it goes into the first syllable, but I’m not sure.) In fact, I think there’s even possibly a bit of confusion (or perhaps it’s on the part of the authors) as to the etymology of the word as well. Anyway.
I’m going to start off this post on hygge with How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life by Signe Johansen, pictured above, which is actually quite a departure from the other books that follow in this post. What I mean when I say that is, for a book on hygge, Johansen discusses a much wider range of topics than the others cover. Which is exactly the reason why I’m choosing to start with it, so I don’t lose your interest here by simply covering the hygge clichés you’ve probably already heard before. One thing Johansen stresses throughout the book is that you have to work for it: while hygge brings with it thoughts of relaxation and comfort rather than hard work, it’s definitely something to work towards in your everyday life rather than something you can create by just filling your home with Nordic furnishings (though that certainly helps).
You’ll find that this book is filled with recipes galore, from fika treats to salads to sandwiches and meals, and of course, boozy drinks to help with, as Johansen puts it, adjusting your attitude. But if you look beyond the recipes, a recurring theme is that if you exercise and get out to experience the great outdoors regardless of the weather, you will become the more content for it overall – and it is this contentedness that is, I think, at the heart of hygge. It’s not a striving for happiness, with happiness as the goal, so much as taking care of yourself and indulging in small pleasures, such as treating yourself to cake or chocolate, or taking some time during the day to enjoy fika with your coworkers, your family, and your friends. Fika sounds strikingly similar to afternoon tea to me, except without the highbrow feeling that “afternoon tea” immediately conjures up (at least when I think of it), and Johansen gives you a few recipes for what look like mouthwatering cardamom twists, a cherry bundt cake, and fried doughnuts, among many other such little treats, to get you started.
All in all, I found that while I didn’t exactly learn anything new (apart from the fact that I’m probably using much less cardamom in my cardamom bread than it actually requires, which would explain a few things), How to Hygge is a beautiful book filled with beautiful pictures, written in a casual, easy to read prose that really inspires you to make those small changes in order to live in way that encourages hygge to proliferate.
Perhaps it’s a bit early talking about this, considering the days are still long and the weather is still warm, but as we’ve now learned from How to Hygge, it’s more a lifestyle that allows ease of hygge than a feeling we can simply purchase the ingredients for. Not that hygge should only be found in the dead of winter! But I think the ability to find and indulge in the little pleasures in life is probably all the more appreciated amongst what appears to be a dead world.* Maybe it’s a bit meta, but I think we should probably feel hygge for the moments that are hygge.