The Inviting Allure of Hygge in a Turbulent, Distracted Time

In a day and age where everything is “share”-able and each spare moment is spent trying to catch up on and understand the latest viral meme, it’s increasingly difficult to look up and take in your surroundings. I know it’s hard for me. Nowadays, when remarkable things happen in front of us, we pull out our phone cameras and watch the screen instead of looking up and watching the actual event unfold before us.

My decision to study abroad was shaped and heavily influenced by a mounting desire to disconnect from social media and reconnect with the people around me. I was honestly just looking for a break from the monotonous and mind-numbing routine of swiping up/down/left/right, hundreds of times a day.

There are a multitude of reasons why I chose DIS and Copenhagen, but at the top of that list is a simple, if phonetically-challenging, five-letter word: hygge.

As a computer science and political science double major, I have experienced my fair share of buzzwords; you can hardly make it through a CS conversation these days without referencing “big data,” “AI,” and “machine learning.” I will openly admit to having gone out of my way to use all three of these terms in recent conversation. I’m not proud of it.

The one buzzword that I’ve heard over and over and over and over and over and over since being admitted to the DIS-Copenhagen program is “ hygge.”

In a hasty effort to comprehend the word (or at least understand how to pronounce it) I read The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. In Weiking’s 190-page ode to hygge that is centered on candle-lighting and pastry-eating, he writes about this hyggeligt experience:

“One summer I went camping with a group of friends along the Nissan River in Sweden. We were roasting chickens over the fire and they were slowly turning nice and golden. In the fire, you could hear the sizzling of the baking potatoes wrapped in foil. We had paddled a fair distance in the canoes that day, and now darkness was falling. The fire lit up the trees surrounding our camp with warm colours but, despite the light from the fire, you could still see the stars through the treetops. As we waited for the golden chickens to be ready, we drank whiskey out of coffee mugs. We were silent, tired, happy and it was pure hygge.”

Doesn’t that just sound like a dream?

Weiking uses this passage as an example of hygge, but I bet you’re still confused as to the actual definition of the word. After reading the book, I still don’t have an exact Merriam-Webster definition for the word. What I do have is an abstract sense of the concept. Hygge is all about slowing down, relaxing, indulging, and enjoying. You see, hygge revolves around being present in the moment at hand. The email inbox can wait. Instagram will still be there in a couple hours. Facebook will still be full of dog videos tomorrow.

Hygge requires a detachment from our iPhones and an appreciation for nature, food, pastries, and most importantly, the people around us.

In this time of turbulence when you turn on the news and see embattled politicians going at each other’s throats and throwing out any definition of political decency and in this time when you have to charge your phone twice in one day because you spent so much time on it, there is no greater allure for a semester abroad than hygge. At least not for me.

In just a few days, I will be in Copenhagen. As I reflect on my goal for this semester abroad, I realize that it is simple: be present and enjoy the present.

In a word, hygge.

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