Despite the best efforts of one American publication that would have us believe so, the word hygge doesn’t mean ‘not discriminating against people for their religion, gender, or sexual orientation.’ This is not to say that people who enjoy hygge engage in discrimination. Hygge just doesn’t mean ‘not discriminating against people for their religion, gender, or sexual orientation,’ the way that the word ‘kettle’ doesn’t mean ‘not discriminating against people for their religion, gender, or sexual orientation.’
Hygge means feeling safe whilst enjoying oneself. It means leaving stressful thoughts at the door and taking some time out. It means not feeling guilty for sitting down, which is why you’ll often find that a person engaged in the act of hygge is sitting in spotless surroundings, occupying a small, isolated, untidy area. There may be sweep-wrappers, magazines, and a greasy remote control in their immediate vicinity, but the wider surroundings will be immaculate (unless the person is a teenager). I know one woman who needs to hoover her terrace before she can sit down and begin to hygge.
And that’s the other thing. Hygge comes in set time frames. Part of its fragile thrill is that we know it’s temporary. Like comfort TV on a Sunday night, hygge comes to an end and soon you will have to face the world again.
Whilst the hyggers love to surround themselves with candles and treats, hygge is a state of mind more than it’s a list of things to do and eat. And its diet is flexible. Whilst there are people to whom the idea of hygge is equivalent to excessive, sugar-infused, face-stuffing, others feel a walk on the beach followed by a handful of almonds washed down with 10cl Aloe Vera juice is hygge.
Hygge doesn’t mean ‘togetherness’ either (also proposed by a magazine). You can hygge alone just as well as you can hygge with others. (Some will say better, but that would be cynical and hygge is anything but cynical). Just don’t confuse hygge in your own company with ‘me time’. Whereas the latter carries an undertone of relief at having escaped others and gives associations to pedicures and worthy books, hygge comes without the obligation or desire to sanitise and educate. That’s the point.
Of course, hygge can mean reading good books, but it can also mean watching reality TV or bitching on the phone with a friend whilst gulping down red wine and filling up an ashtray. Hygge wears random clothes picked for comfort as opposed to style. If you want it to, hygge can mean closing the blinds so the neighbours can’t watch you swallow the contents of a family-size doughnut bag. It can mean cooking alone or in the company of others, playing with your cat or your dog or flicking through monthlies, admiring the glossy people’s hair without experiencing a flinch of jealousy.
Hygge doesn’t make you a good or a bad person, it has no political, ethical or spiritual message – it’s a shrug in the face of motivational quotes.