There clearly isn’t enough ‘hygge’ to go around

We’re gearing up to adopt a philosophy that has the potential to incite us to stock up on stuff all over again. But, in theory at least, the recent linguistic import from Denmark won’t cost us a thing because it’s about ‘being, not having’, writes Clodagh Finn.

IT TURNS out that all the Danish we picked up watching our favourite Scandi shows — The Killing, Borgen — is of no use whatsoever when it comes to figuring out how to pronounce “hygge”, the Danish-inspired wellness trend that’s going to be huge this autumn.

The word roughly translates as “all kinds of cosy” but just how you say it is a moot point. Is it hig-ge as in Higg’s boson, or hug-ge as in “great big bear hug”, or should we try it with a fancy U as in Hugenot?

Apparently, the fancy U wins out. According to all those helpful guides, it’s pronounced {hue-gah} but expect to hear some ingenious corruptions as the dark evenings draw in.

And you will be hearing lots about this little five-lettered word and how the feeling it embodies — “of warmth, comfort and belonging” — has helped make Denmark one of the world’s happiest nations.

Denmark took the top spot in the UN’s World Happiness Report in 2013, 2014, and this year. (Ireland was 19th in 2016).

All those ominous skies and drizzly grey rain in The Killing and The Bridge is clearly a fiction, then. But let’s not get cynical or distracted because, as trends go, hygge hype is pretty neat. Anything that has contentment and communion at the core of its philosophy has to be welcomed. Yes, let’s bring on the rush to embrace the spirit of comfort, shelter, and togetherness.

The pity, however, is the naked commercialism that will go with it.

Brace yourself for a thick blanket of publicity that will be unleashed on a public desperate for a little autumnal pick-up. There will be richly produced shots of blazing fires, flickering candles, warm woollen blankets, and cups of steaming cocoa.

The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well has already hit the shelves. In fairness to author Louisa Thomsen Brits, her book is a thing of beauty. Its pages are populated with images so inviting they’d make you want to whip out your cuddle blanket on the spot.

The book also explains that the phenomenon is not only a noun but a verb.

“To ‘hygge’”, explains Thomsen Brits, “means to create an emotionally warm atmosphere, to enjoy the good things in life with good people.”

She even provides a helpful list of what people who hygge do — they sit around a table to share a meal, they curl up with a good book beside a fire on a wet night, they snuggle up like spoons in bed on a windy evening.

As loan words go, it’s a good addition to the English language, though I wonder if it’s a necessary one. Is there any real difference between, say, ordering “tea and hygge” and “tea and TLC”?

On balance, though, the more words we have to describe the good things, the better. We’ve taken enough of the bad ones.

For instance, what does it say about us as a society that we’ve imported the German word “schadenfreude” to describe taking pleasure in another’s misfortune, but not the Yiddish word “fargin”, which means to glow with pride at the success of another?

And what ever happened to our fascination with the Swedish word (and philosophy) “lagom”, which translates as “just the right amount”.

Apparently, the origin of that word goes back to a Viking phrase “laget om”, which means “around the team”. It personified a code of conduct that meant a communal horn of mead (or its Swedish equivalent) could be passed around and everyone would sip their share and not a single drop more.

For a while it was a thing, particularly in the business world where it espoused moderation and balance in all things. What a spectacular failure that was because the blockbusting hit of last year was Japanese author Marie Kondo’s decluttering bible, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She didn’t have a particular Japanese word to describe our collective need to fill black bin bags and bring them to the charity shop, but she didn’t need one. Her book was a runaway success.

That book’s enduring popularity highlights a very uncomfortable truth. In the same way that the modern world has had to cope with the twin — though diametrically opposed — issues of malnutrition and obesity, there is also an ever-increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots.

It is almost obscene to think what preoccupies us in the autumn season when you turn on the TV and see the chasm between the trendy homemakers and the refugees who have little more than the shirt on their backs.

On an aside, it’s worth mentioning that once-liberal Denmark has responded to the migrant crisis by tightening its border controls. There clearly isn’t enough hygge to go around.

Not that we can throw any stones. Right now, we’re gearing up to adopt a philosophy that has the potential to incite us to stock up on stuff all over again.

But stop right there because, in theory at least, the recent linguistic import from Denmark won’t cost us a thing because it’s about “being, not having”. That means you don’t have to spend so much as the price of a firelighter to be a fully paid-up member of the trend that is going to be pedalled at every home furnishings store this side of Christmas — and beyond.

You don’t need to stock up on fancy candles, either, or warm woolly blankets, or those beautiful designer cocoa mugs that come with a fancy price tag.

As Louisa Thomsen Brits advises, all you have to do is appreciate the sacred in the secular and take the time to celebrate it.

Looking ahead. Next year, I’m going to suggest we adopt the Icelandic concept of “sólarfrí”, which means “sun vacation”. That fantastic word describes what happens when there’s an unexpected sunny day in Iceland — workers are given a spontaneous day or afternoon off.

Bring it on.


John’s chairs will last a lifetime, but he is also passing on his knowledge to a new generation, writes Ellie O’Byrne.Made in Munster: The ancient art of súgán-making is woven into Irish family history

More From The Irish Examiner