I’ve always been fascinated by words; individually, their etymology, their use and construction in sentences as a means to convey information or emotion. I don’t converse in other languages (a sad failure on my part) but I am intrigued by words from other languages also, especially those that don’t translate well and remain unique to their own tongue.
Hygge – a Danish concept and Norwegian word – is one of those words that has percolated into my consciousness over the past couple of years, especially in the cooler seasons when hygge comes into its own and more people talk about it.
As I am not Scandinavian, hygge is something I have to really think about to try and understand. If indeed I can. Its loosest association in English appears to be “cosiness” – surely a universal concept. But as with other words that don’t translate into other languages, reading more about it, hygge seems to be so very much more intriguing than just being cosy.
Cosiness is something intrinsic to fibre artists the world over, especially those of us who work with wool. Knitters, spinners, dyers, knitwear designers; however much we enjoy summer, lots of us secretly long for the crisper days that allow us to dig out treasured woollen hand knit items, lovingly crafted and carefully stored.
Grey rainy days pen us up inside and beg us to light the woodstove or a candle, find a mug of something warm and comforting and pick up needles and yarn.
Autumn and Winter turn us more inwards to search for inspiration within. The darker days and longer nights perhaps allow for more hours to devote to crafts. And the chilly evenings and crisp mornings give us the excuse to cast on exciting new projects, peruse patterns and buy fibre, yarn and books…
To a non-Scandinavian fibre-loving person, hygge would seem to be present in pretty well all of the tactile enjoyment of our craft – from inception to finished item – and the pure pleasure that creativity brings. Days off for me invariably involve time to sit and spin with a mug of good coffee and something tasty to nibble on. It will always be drunk from a hand thrown chunky mug and appreciated slowly to fully invest in the enjoyment “making” brings me.
I feel hygge when I carefully lay out ingredients in readiness to bake, when I enjoy the pure aroma of handmade soap whilst washing my hands, in the cool earth crumbling beneath my fingers as I plant out tender seedlings or harvest home grown food. In the kneading of bread, the line of a poem, the shape of a letter being laid down in ink on fresh paper…
Hygge however seems to be much more than the cosiness of our surroundings or simple enjoyment of the things we do alone. More than material possessions. We hygge when we meet with family or friends, enjoy a moment or a meal together. Whilst reading about hygge and the Danish way of life recently I found the following thought very interesting:
Hygge stems from a society that is focused on people rather than things. It is linked to the language of love and to the idea that real wealth is not what we can accumulate but what we have to share
So hygge seems to mean a kind of happiness and generosity of spirit. But so often happiness of a kind has been linked to a striving for something, a nebulous something that is perhaps achieved only occasionally and has to be chased down like a rare butterfly eluding our net or purchased in an experience. In my early twenties I felt trapped by my work and by illness, happiness was something I’d felt I had long since lost and in the words of my doctor when I sobbed in his surgery I could no longer “see the light at the end of the tunnel”. Giving up my job was the terrifying non-choice I took but I’d reached the bottom of the hell-hole I’d somehow fallen into and there was no place else to go. Hurrying through the days without living them mindfully, I’d suddenly been brought up short. Slowly I returned to the light. Family, nature, faith, whole foods, and being outdoors in natural daylight all played a part in nourishing mind, spirit and body. I had no income, no future plans, saw few people and had very little in the way of material possessions and no money to buy new ones or to go out socialising. Despite the apparent lack of trappings of the modern world I did discover something I’d not had for many years. Peace…
In between the new activities that filled my days; learning to grow vegetables, reading and study, spending more time making and building, finding alternatives to owning, buying and having things, I discovered a truth I had overlooked in my race to achieve something, anything, je ne sais quoi. Happiness was not ecstasy. It was contentment. Having less, doing less but accepting those limitations with simple gratitude gave me a peace I’d not experienced since childhood. I felt like I’d come out into a whole new world. I learned to invest in each moment and live in the present. I felt that the past and the future were linked by a trail of “nows” and that living each moment fully would build a better life. In the frugality I felt like I’d learned the secret of happiness and for a season nothing could shake that.
In everything of course though there are good and bad moments. In time dark days returned and with them a level of pain previously unknown. The newly learned lessons of contentment were rattled and shaken by storms which often threatened at times to snuff them out altogether. But again family, faith, nature, the love of friends and now spinning and knitting gave me threads to hold onto and weave into the chaotic fabric of my life. And dotted in and amongst the turmoil I tried to find small oases of what I think were hygge or at least hyggeligt (hygge-like); moments to shut the door and sit and spin for a while, perhaps lighting a candle and sit with the window open listening to the night sounds or taking a few moments to properly savour a mug or plate of something thoughtfully prepared. Love pulled our family through the dark canyon to the other side, albeit each of us to our different shores.
Since then there have been times when I’ve managed to live each moment fully and times when I have utterly lost sight of this. Pondering on the word hygge in recent weeks it reminded me of this need I feel to live each moment mindfully and find contentment that is in the here-and-now rather than always thinking ahead to what the future might bring. Perhaps. One day. Maybe.
I know there are busy times ahead and uncertainty. Winter is always our longest season here; we spend the short summer months preparing for the longer colder darker times, storing, mending, preparing. As we move into Autumn with the prospect of greyer light and fewer hours to pack things into, it increases my feeling that I need to savour each moment for what it really is and be thankful. This season to try make my life a little more hyggeligt. Piece by piece. Moment by moment. It will be good.
I’m almost tempted to say I can’t wait!