It all started with a trip to the annex of Green Apple Books in San Francisco. The bookstore in the Inner Richmond district of the city has become a haven for me, and I’ve gone for the past 11 years. But it was about three years ago when I picked up a copy of Kinfolk, a lifestyle magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark.
As soon as I picked up the magazine and started reading it, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm. I remember driving home to North Oakland and settling in a brown, wicker papasan with a cup of tea, eager to dive into the magazine. I would savor every page, each photo and story, because reading it had a calming effect on me.
Since then, I’ve owned every issue. There are also a bunch of issues strategically placed in my room, so that I’m always reminded of that feeling. It wasn’t until lately that I realized what it was that made me so enamored with Kinfolk, so drawn to its mere presence — the Danish concept of hygge.
Hygge (pronounced as hoo-gah) is a Danish word which has no direct translation, but it roughly means “cozy” and it pertains to a kind of lifestyle that the Danes have adapted, and has influenced the way they view or arrange their homes, their offices, down to creating the kind of atmosphere that is hyggeligt (as in, hygge-ful); to a feeling of being at home within ourselves and in the society, a moment to let their guards down. It also comes from the Norwegian word meaning “well-being.”
About a month ago, I came across Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living (Amazon | Indiebound) and decided to get into it. But instead of the good ol’ way of holding a physical copy, I got an audio book through Audible. Within the two days that I listened to the book, I learned about the hygge lifestyle: its origins, how to hygge at home, in the office and outdoors, what makes for a hyggeligt time and how my obsession with Kinfolk, candles and books finally make sense.
What freedom is to America, hygge is to Danes.
One of the central elements of hygge is light. According to Wiking, when you light a candle, that’s instant hygge. He also mentioned that the sweet spot for lighting is a 5000k lightbulb. What does this obsession with light mean?
Winter in Denmark means days that are short and dark for the most part, from October to March. What this told me about the Danes is that lighting then is not just for aesthetic, but a survival strategy. After all, figuring out how to survive the harshest winter months is necessary.
And since we’re talking about light, fireplaces are the next best thing because they create a safe, warm and bright atmosphere.
Couple this with a book, a blanket and a warm cup of cocoa. Hyggeligt.
A quick search for images on what hygge looks like will yield the following photos:
It all looks very hipster-ish to me, but it happens to be the real deal. Candles, check. A book with warm socks, check. A fire pit with friends by the water, check. Good food (and plants), check. To the outsider, hygge can look like a hedonistic pursuit. A toast to the good life. It is, but the underlying meaning and intentions give it its depth — far more than what an observer will be left with.
I admit though, hygge is perfect for introverts like me, which is probably why my Instagram feed looks like a variation of all these photos. What attracts me to hygge is how it prioritizes we over me, how it chooses to keep things simple, and how it teaches you to appreciate the small, humble things in life. It’s like the exact opposite of American culture. At some point though, I couldn’t help comparing how this kind of lifestyle is geared towards affluent nations only because I can’t imaging the Philippines following suit. It wasn’t until I read this book that I realized how the bedrock of hygge is the Danes’ capacity to work for and make collective well-being possible, thereby increasing the social safety net of the country’s most vulnerable. In short, it’s a proud welfare state.
I think the U.S. can learn a lot of lessons from the Danes, when it comes to real health and well-being. Ingen af den kapitalistiske lort som Trumpcare, som vi hele tiden skal beskæftige os med. Jubel.
Hygge chooses harmony over competition; we already like you.
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Pia Cortez is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She runs a book blog called Libromance where she reviews books and publishes literary features with a queer Filipino immigrant lens. She is a contributor at Hella Pinay, an online magazine for Filipino-American women and at New Life Quarterly, a literary magazine based in Oakland, California. She is currently working on her first novel.