2015.11.16 How full is your glass?

It may be old news to some, but to me it was an epiphany.

Evidently, the World has discovered hygge, the Danish speciality of spending time amicably with friends and/or family.

This recent article from UC Berkeley Greater Good newsletter made a portrait of hygge. It is a rather bleak portrait. Not because hygge is described in bleak terms but because it is written as a contrast to what sounds like endemic squabbles whenever American families are together.

A very different tone is found in the British The Telegraph article published October 24th where hygge was described as identifiable to most Brits in the atmosphere around a roaring pub fireplace.

If you have followed the lead to either of the two articles, you will have a pretty good take on both how to pronounce hygge and on what it is. The linguistic analogy to hug is worth remembering.

It may also be a clue that the antonym - uhygge - would be used for scary movies, graveyards after dark, dilapidated slums, and to some degree people, things, and places that are too "perfect".

If you haven't yet followed the leads, now would be a good time to do so while paying attention to how the articles make you feel.


What did I learn? My epiphany was twofold.

The first thought was that the angles used in the articles were so different and I was wondering if it was symptomatic?

How do you generate contentment if your focus is on what you do not have? Is this a normal focus in the US? Why did the author pursue this line?

It made me sad, as if hygge was such an alien concept that the author couldn't really conjure it.

Or could it have been an attempt to be funny? That is a common way to handle painful concepts - also sad - but not very instructive.

Could it be a perpetual Keeping up with the Joneses had been tweaked to Keeping up with the Danes?

Mind you, this line of thought didn't even occur to me while I was reading the Greater Good article but appeared on reading the two articles together. I had registered that I initially felt sad but couldn't pinpoint why.

Could the American article have been written along the same line as the English, and if so, what would it have looked like?

I envision an American campfire - even including unhyggely scary stories - or a clambake as candidates for a hyggely time. Or carving pumpkins together. Or a walk in the woods. Together.

No, your focus is not on if your appearance is out of a magazine or if a shared meal is worthy of a Michelin star.

The inner sentiment is "I am OK and you are OK" - not "OK" as in not sick or without hardships but "OK" as in "I like you and I assume that you like me". Because we wouldn't waste precious hygge-time on people we don't like, would we?

My second epiphany was on mindfulness. When the Danes "do hygge", there is an ongoing awareness on how one feels. Danes reinforce each other with expressions like "oh, this is so hyggely". And it is not only words. They - we - really feel a warmth inside; not just from the fire or candles, but from trust and good will. You have to bring your real "you" to the party; the Facebook facade just won't do.

A pressure to hygge can become stifling; then it stops being hyggely.

You may even hear good friends say "this is not really hyggely." That is a signal to change what you are doing together - not a signal to get new friends. Because only somebody who likes you and trusts you will tell you that something needs to change.

Yes, we have testy inlaws, one-up-manship, and squabbles, too, but then we don't use the term hygge.

Go for it. The dark winter months call for candles, comfort, and community.