Hygge Will Get You Through This Winter

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The long, dark nights are beginning. The Scottish winter demands effort and thoughtfulness, to get through it successfully to the other side. So I’ve been writing lists (‘make cookies. Wash clothes and self’) and making plans to go to the pub now and then.

These things may seem small and lame. The lack of grandiose ambitions, however, is not a sign of any alarming malaise. Personally, having hardly any ambitions at all makes my life a lot better. I call it the could-get-hit-by-a-bus-tomorrow approach. While I appreciate the purpose of long-term goals to keep people afloat in somewhat dreary times, give them a reason to live, and to push them to make good, wholesome changes (like, not doing so many illegal things, and, earning enough money to eat), I think there is a lot to appreciate in the smaller goals in life, too. My dark secret: I do not care about the glass ceiling, although I will defend to the death your right to destroy it.

Therefore, I have accumulated mostly small ambitions which I have easily achieved over time. For example:

  1. Avoid public speaking

I’ve been on track with this one my whole life – no, no applause, please, it’s too much focussed attention. I’ll get wobbly.

  1. Become a proficient figure skater.

The COSTUMES! Ok, this one isn’t so small, but I really love ice skating, and I’m used to falling on my bum in front of people. This is still on the list. I’m building up to it.

  1. Learn how to knit. I feel this has become quite a pedestrian ambition now that the zeitgeist have taken up their knitting needles en masse and you can’t move for people knitting everywhere. But pedestrian ambitions are the name of the game here, so it’s on the list. I have jumpers in my future:

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  1. Write an infatuated fan letter to Gloria Steinem. I just don’t know what I would write, except that I think she’s my favourite. Can I spin that out into a long, blushing, embarrassing letter?

Maya Angelou and Gloria Steinem on their way to the March on Washington on August 27, 1983 in Washington, DC.

  1. Visit Denmark.

Uh, nailed it! And that’s why I’d like to talk about hygge.

What’s hygge, I hear you ask? (Yes I did).

Hygge has got nothing to do with ambition. Hygge is not selfish, or even personal. This Danish word has no exact translation into English, but it’s a sort of mix – or fondue, if you will – of all the nouns that give us a warm glow. Cameraderie, companionship, cosiness. A night with a great bunch of people. Excellent banter. Maybe some toast.

Maybe some whisky
Maybe some whisky

This is a feeling we all know – I’d go so far to say that it’s at the heart of what makes a happy life – and lo, the Danes have a word for it. (I think it’s pronounced HyOOGuh). I suspect this helps them to create hygge more often, because having a word for something – a definition, a quick short-hand – brings it more fully into the light.

So, as usual, Danish people are doing excellently at being alive. I’ve written previously about my enduring adoration of Danish culture, in this post about handsome Vikings, and this summer, I went there with my mum on something of a pilgrimage to the land of hygge.

Our apartment in Copenhagen
Our apartment in Copenhagen

I knew it was dangerous to go to Denmark, because there has always been a high chance that it would exceed my expectations, and then I’d be half in love and half heartbroken, and doomed to spend my days pining for Denmark, all sorrowful. That is what happened.

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One Thursday we saw a young Dane on an adorable bicycle happily wheeling past us in the street, singing at the top of her voice, as if she had a surfeit of happiness she couldn’t keep inside. They have a welfare model so cohesive and enduring that it has its own Wikipedia entry. They have equal paid paternity and maternity leave. According to anecdotal evidence, Danes also have a slight dislike of naked, rapacious ambition. 40% of commuters in Copenhagen cycle to work. I saw a lot of chic, sleek business people with brogues and backpacks cycling to their (no doubt amazing and innovative) jobs. I imagine if you asked them why they cycle when they could afford to drive, they’d look at you like you were mad and tell you flatly that cycling is the most practical, healthy option.

Amongst this meticulously reasonable, healthy living, there’s also a community in the heart of the city called Christiania, which was taken over in the 1970s by a bunch of sexy radicals looking to become hairy and self-sufficient. Amazingly, it’s still functioning today, albeit in a very low-key, laid back, gentle way, with less of a fog of drugs everywhere (although still, to be honest, quite a fog of drugs in some parts).

Leaving Christiania, re-entering the EU
Leaving Christiania, re-entering the EU

So the Danes do have their riotous side.

The more I know about Denmark, the more I feel I could go there with my absolute lack of ambition and settle in quite nicely, riding a bicycle and enjoying cosy camaraderie with candles at night-time. If I got hit-by-a-bus tomorrow, I’d hope that my last days had been an abundance of hygge. Nobody wishes they’d worked harder, and you can’t take your money with you when you go.

So, my 6th small ambition, which I added to my list on returning from Copenhagen, is to bring more hygge to my life. I know Scotland has it. Here are three helpful pointers if you wish to join me in this:

Things That are Hygge

Coming inside after a whole day out in the snow

Listening

Candlelight and Scrabble

Pot-luck dinners

Inviting your friends to climb a hill with you

Talking with beer, and no phones or screens in sight.

A story-telling hour

Spontaneous cuddles

And here you can see Joakim Eskildsen’s beautiful pictures of what he thinks of as hygge.

Things that are Not Hygge

Rushing

Competitiveness

A wet carpark full of seagulls in an industrial estate on a Monday in January

Making fun of people

Only communicating via facebook (I’m guilty of this one)

How to Bring Hygge into Your Life

Say yes to things, often.

Help people, without any conditions or expectations. This means doing your utmost to hold someone’s hand while they pull themselves out of the Mud Of Sadness, for no reason at all but because it’s the right thing to do.

Blankets, more blankets, slippers, and fleece-lined pyjamas.

Let life happen, for the most part, and see what great things unfold.

For example: our accommodation in Denmark fell through at the last minute, so we booked this apartment a few days before departing. It was beautiful. A stroke of luck.
For example: our accommodation in Denmark fell through at the last minute, so we booked this apartment a few days before departing. It was beautiful. A stroke of luck.

Go easy on yourself. Let go of any Presbyterian guilt. It’s not useful.

Reach out to others and invite them round for lasagne.

Take a day off work when you have no plans.

Never feel the Fear of Missing Out. Wherever you are is where you are meant to be.

Happy Winter one and all xxx

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