I’ve been writing about the Danish cultural lifestyle of hygge a lot these last few days (yes, I’m what they call obsessive). It’s long been something that’s near to my heart and is a part of my particular family heritage that helps me stay connected to my ancestry in a healthy way. Plus, as an HSP, it helps me stay sane.
But as I said the other day, I’ve hesitated writing about it much on this blog. I’ve felt guilty and have taken it as an artifact of my privilege. Especially as a pastor-in-training, I’ve felt as if, through making it a topic of this blog, I was bypassing the suffering in the world by offering a form of escapism that not all of us can enjoy. I’ve taken it as a sort of luxury lifestyle brand and have felt a sense of shallowness about it.
Which is a huge bummer. Because this is a personal blog and it really is a big part of my life that I’m not sharing much — which hurts, in a creative sort of way.
As I examine what’s going on, I see that it isn’t hygge itself that has me feeling weird about it. It’s what my American culture has done with hygge that’s problematic.
We’ve marketed¹ the hell out of hygge these last few years. And in the hands of social media ‘influencers,’ hygge has become a symbol of privilege and wealth, in a lot of cases. It’s an affiliate marketer and lifestyle entrepreneur’s dream because they can hawk their overpriced goods while wrapping it in this mercantile blanket of materialistic numbness that they’ve completely missed the point on.
But hygge is not something anyone has to go out and spend a bunch of money on. If anything, paying high dollars for something² makes it uhyggeligt (unhygge).
If you’re going to mass-market hygge, you have to make it into something it’s not. You have to turn it into a lifestyle brand that people can purchase status in. But it’s not. Hygge is about old baggy sweaters, wool socks with holes in them, unscented candles (homemade ones are even more hyggelig), and your grandfather’s blanket. It’s about rustic materials, small spaces, hand-made items, warm drinks, and slow food.
Hygge is not about buying shiny new designer goods — if anything, it’s an antidote to that.
More importantly, hygge isn’t about things. It starts with an inner state of being. It’s about setting an intention in our lives about warmth, togetherness, and coziness (definitely not a focus of most American males). The artifacts — the ‘things’ I mentioned above — are merely outer manifestations of that.
The fact is, I need this as a sensitive-type personality living in the achiever’s world that is America. I think many of us do. Even those of us who are more active, either physically or intellectually. Because there does come a point where we’re called to go out and mix things up in the world. This little hyggelig bubble can’t be a utopia we get lost in.
I have to remind myself of this, especially as a someday-pastor (God willing). I’m entering an industry where I’ll be sitting with a fair amount of suffering. Social activism is also a part of this call.
This is why I need hygge (and maybe, you do too). If anything, it keeps us in the game. It helps us sensitives recharge.
Hyggesnak and the Danish safe haven
When I first heard about how obsessed Danish people are about comfort and coziness, I made a snap judgment that they’re people who apparently don’t care about politics and the issues that surround them (I wondered if they even had any). The Danes even have a term — hyggesnak [hoogasnak]— which describes chitchat or ‘cozy conversation’ that doesn’t touch on controversial issues. Learning about this made me assume they’re either politically passive or just plain ignorant.
Well, they’re not. They’re incredibly politically active. Their political system calls for the intense involvement of the people.
But they make plenty of space in their homes and hearts for a safe haven. Translating hygge into homeyness is accurate. The home in the Scandinavian sense is the place where you can be yourself and shut out the big, dark, and dangerous world outside. The origin of the word hygge is Norwegian and old Nordic. It means seeking refuge, protection, and shelter from the raging of the outside elements.
Hygge is their way of namaste. A social posture rooted in shared togetherness that lives in each of them but the source of which lies outside of their individual selves.
Hygge is not a luxury brand. It doesn’t have to do with things (and the things that might rest under that humanistic umbrella are typically cheap or free). It has to do with people and an inner beingness. It’s accessible to anyone.
Not that hygge has anything directly to do with faith, but hygge ties into my particular one through Jesus as the light of the common table. As with hygge, the mystical Christian faith has to do with communal spaces, inclusivity, and the sacralization of common elements such as bread, wine, herbs, land, water, oil, fish, etc.
Hygge is not — it cannot be (yep, those are italics; I’m putting my foot down on this one) — a luxury lifestyle. Absolutely, it’s far easier to be cozy and warm when you have a roof over your head, food in your belly, are in good health and free from a boot on your neck. But it only requires a small level of subsistence³ for hygge to be brought to any home or heart.
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¹Not that there’s anything wrong with buying and selling things. Even expensive things. I have to say, as an American male, I’m shamelessly a giant fan of Huckberry and their high-priced goods. I want to buy all of it (not that I do because I seriously can’t afford it). In my opinion, it’s more hyggelig to buy a handful of good-quality/hand-made clothing items or goods that will last a long time and are well made rather than cheap stuff from giant big box stores that will fall apart after a few uses. But again, not necessary.
³A large social-economic safety net is also a big part of the culture of hygge in Denmark— but that’s for another post:)