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A LIFE WELL LIVED

Cosier together: Embracing the soft philosophy of hygge, all year round

Image United Nations for Unsplash

It’s become increasingly popular around the world, but does the Danish concept travel well in South Africa?

2020’s pandemic lockdowns have forced us to spend more time at home than ever before. For most of us, that change was precipitous, shifting our being in the world: the way we worked, related with friends and family, educated our children, and adapted to our changed environment.

How, then, does one adapt and improve the experience of home? What if creating an environment conducive to calm and comfort was a way to help us be content within our own spaces? This idea – that making small snug changes in our homes can improve our wellbeing – is what hygge (pronounced hyou-guh) is all about.

But what is hygge exactly?

In 2016, hygge was listed as one of the Oxford Dictionaries’ “Word of the Year”. The Danish trend – a philosophy of life about changing the way we think about happiness and home – had been popularised, partly thanks to Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge, which became a New York Times bestseller.

The concept? The Oxford Dictionary describes it as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being”.

Onor Hanreck Wilkinson, who works at the Meik Wiking’s Copenhagen-based think-tank organisation, the Happiness Research Institute, says, “the Danish concept of hygge is essentially the art of creating a nice atmosphere. The key cornerstones of hygge are atmosphere, presence, pleasure, equality, gratitude, harmony, comfort, truce, togetherness and shelter”.

Examples of hygge are as varied as the simple pleasure of putting on comfortable clothes, lighting candles during dinner, buying flowers for your home, investing in comfortable blankets, or buying your favourite ice cream and taking the time to enjoy it.

Originally, and because Danish weather is marked by cold winters and mild (think cool) summers, hygge has been associated with the interior: focussing on being warm inside one’s home, wearing a wool sweater, fluffy carpets, snuggly blankets, the scent of wood, hot chocolate, or a burning fireplace.

In recent years, the concept has stretched to other seasons, as a philosophy and a way of living that can be carried way past the cold months.

Now, can the hygge concept be implemented in the South African context and if so, how?

Summer hygge

Wilkinson notes that although “Denmark can be a source of inspiration for how countries can increase the quality of life for their citizens, hygge is not something that the Danes own for themselves”.

He adds: “Anywhere, at any time, can be hygge – but I have noticed that hygge moments are created by one or many of these key hygge drivers: company, casualness and being close to nature.

“For ultimate hygge-factor, you could also create a hyggekrog, which roughly translates as a ‘nook’, somewhere you can curl up with a book and a nice drink”.

How can we hygge during summer? By spending more time outdoors: going on day trips; spending time with friends and family in a garden or park; going on a hike; having an old-school picnic; riding a bike; or going to the beach, sitting on a rock, reading a book… The possibilities are endless.

“Ultimately, hygge is about being with loved ones in a comfortable environment, so one way to implement hygge in the home is creating a relaxing environment to spend quality time with loved ones: engage, listen and be present,” explains Wilkinson.

South African hygge

This all sounds very European. It appears much easier to appreciate concepts such as equality, pleasure, harmony and  comfort when your basic needs are covered and life isn’t about surviving. And for many, life in South Africa is anything but equal, pleasurable, harmonious or comfortable.

Yet, hygge still seems to be something that South Africans can enjoy philosophically: while those who do have access to comfortable lifestyles might be driven by a capitalist world, and often perpetuate a consumerist attitude, there is something to be said about toning down a “more is more” outlook in favour of something that celebrates the simpler things in life.

That said, even with different levels of comfort and access, perhaps some elements of hygge are already engraved in our way of life, without anyone labelling it as such: one just needs to look at South Africans’ sense of community and togetherness, our ability to turn something insignificant into a masterpiece, and our resilience even in the harshest circumstances. DM/ ML

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