Hygge is a funny little Danish word that elegantly stands in for a potpourri of feelings: coziness, warmth, comfort, love, security, being surrounded by friends and loved ones, looking out at snow and sleet from inside a warm, fire-lit room, sipping a hot drink, feeling utterly safe and happy. Danes know a thing or two about hygge apparently, given that they won the metaphoric cake several times as the world’s happiest people, so we adopted ‘hygge’ as a new word in our vocabulary, to fill in a space that the pragmatic English language has left unexplored. (There’s a few other notions that English doesn’t begin to define, like the Portuguese ‘saudade’ and Romanian ‘dor,’ both meaning to miss someone, a mixture of nostalgia, hurt, love and good memories, or the Arabic “sukuun” literally ‘the presence of absence,’ so cleverly capturing the feeling engendered by a certain kind of emptiness.) But ‘hygge’ really stands out for its unequivocally positive connotations and we adopted it wholeheartedly. Until we spoke to the experts, that is.
I should say that by this point we arrived in New York, our third East Coast destination, and, not surprisingly, one full of adventures in spite of the fact that it was somewhat shorter. We stayed with our good friends Vio and Didi (which autocorrect insists are actually called Bio and Did with an infuriating self-assuredness) and were lucky enough to have our other friend Ion as guide and maitre d’ during the days.
Ion (pronounced Yon) also happens to be the expert whom we consulted with regards to ‘hygge’ and Danish culture, in general, as someone who lived a good few years there and experienced first-hand the much-vaunted Danish happiness, hygge and eponymous cheese-filled pastries.
The verdict? The Danes are no more no less happy than anyone else. Objectively, they seem to enjoy excellent healthcare, a good social net, rake in sizable incomes and have plenty of time for vacations and family. On the flip side, their weather is terrible and their politics veer a bit extreme right, especially on the topic of immigration.
But happiness has nothing to do with objective measurements. Even those poor 1% of the US, who by all standards should be the happiest? Not always happy, believe it or not, because there’s always someone richer, younger, prettier or more successful than them. It’s all about perspective and who you compare yourself with – those above or those below you in wealth, health, looks, etc.
As for us two bums? Between eating gourmet vegetarian dinners hand-cooked for us by two Wall-Street hot-shots, taking in the Maigritte exhibit at MoMa, walking through Central Park at its most splendid time of the year, and most importantly, hanging out with good friends in cozy places, laughing, drinking, and making plans, we certainly experienced hygge the New York-version, and wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Thank you Bio, Did, Eye-On and Nod Yeah! DAMN YOU AUTOCORRECT!
A la prochaine, chers amis.