A curious series of events happened as I began to research my final February post on warmth and nostalgia. I had decided it was going to be all about the quest for coziness that we seek within white-hot flames, particularly those of the candles we light and the fireplaces we tend to gather around during cold, winter months.
After writing about how to create a warm, happy home a few weeks back, a reader commented on the post and asked if I’d ever heard of hygge because she thought I might enjoy it. Not only did I not know what it was, I had no idea how to pronounce the word she’d just written. Did it rhyme with jiggy? Gettin’ hygge wit it?
So I resorted to the powers of Google to further fuel my curiosity, and I was stunned to see the hundreds of hygge pages that came up in my search results. And what I found is that apparently for the last year I’ve been living under a rock (hey, I had a lot of stuff going on). A Danish word for a feeling or mood that comes taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary, everyday moments more meaningful, beautiful or special, hygge (pronounced hoo-gah – duh) had apparently taken the world by storm in 2016.
I was fascinated that this term—one I had never heard of—was exactly what I’d been trying to create for my life over the past few months. I’d been spending most of my spare time curled up in the corner of my couch with warm blankets, candles flickering, mugs upon mugs of cinnamon tea, (and sometimes even YouTube fireplace videos), all in an effort to invoke a cozy, calm atmosphere to combat my stressful, busy life. I was so desperately trying to create these comforting physical and emotional spaces in my days to feel more connected to my new space, to my new life, and to myself—the person I wanted to get back to, the person I wanted to become.
What better way to take on the difficult task of trying to find answers than to embrace the quiet contemplation these rituals created? But yet… I still felt like something was still missing, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Perhaps learning more about hygge could help me find it.
As I continued to scour the web for more information and stumbled upon a highly recommended book on the subject, The Little Book of Hygge, my mom texted me and told me she’d read about this very book in Real Simple that day at the dentist’s office. And then—because she’s my mom and she’s awesome—she said she had ordered it for me and that it would be in my mailbox in two days via the wonder of Amazon Prime.
The book arrived, and it really was just as good as the reviews suggested. But then again, I suppose that was to be expected considering the author, Meik Wiking, is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. I flipped through the book and was excited to find out that my topic for this blog post, candles and fires, were two of the top three things that Danes associated with hygge. (The third was a warm beverage; seems like I already had this hygge thing down pretty well.)
“Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down,” Wiking explains in the book. Wiking even mentions that sometimes hygge has been called many things like “art of creating intimacy” and “cozy togetherness.”
Iben Dissing Sandahl, a psychotherapist and family counselor in Copenhagen and co-author of another hygge-inspired book, The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids, has described this cozy togetherness “we-fulness”—times reserved for mindful togetherness that can happen anytime, anywhere.
I read these descriptions a few times, and it finally clicked: I was missing the togetherness part.
While the hygge moments I had created for myself were quite amazing, I realized that doing it alone for so much of my time sometimes left me feeling lonely. I needed to start doing something different because I knew what it was like to disconnect too much from life; I didn’t want to do that again.
I thought back to my nostalgic memories of candles and fireplaces, and the majority of those memories I associated with my friends or family: sitting around a fireplace at the holidays or on cold, winter nights, having candles lit atop a birthday cake or on top of a table filled with comfort foods for both the everyday and for special occasions, or talking around a campfire or a bonfire with friends back in my high school and college days.
Those memories were shared with others, and I realized I needed to start sharing them again.
I thought I’d start small. The easiest way to start, of course, was with my daughter. While the two of us are connected, we’ve never actively practiced connectedness in an atmosphere specifically built to evoke a feeling of togetherness. Zoey, being Zoey, was totally on board with the idea. We bought some new candles together (which involved me gently weeding out the overly sweet ones her little nose gravitated toward).
Our home doesn’t have a fireplace that we can sit around, but I knew we could find one elsewhere: Panera Bread. I’ve always liked Panera, perhaps because I feel like it embodies some of the very things hygge touts: cozy booths and tables that allow you to enjoy good food and good conversation with family and friends in a warm, mostly-quiet environment. Zoey ordered mac and cheese, and I got soup, and we sat by that fireplace and talked about our days and shared in the warmth from the fire and from our conversation.
And then a funny thing happened.
An older woman and her granddaughter sat down next to us, and as they started eating their dinner, the woman started reading the girl a book. Zoey became entranced by the book and scooted her chair around the table closer to mine so she could watch and listen to the woman tell the story.
The woman noticed Zoey’s interest, and she turned the book toward her so Zoey could see the pictures, too. After she finished, the girls introduced themselves and started giggling the way only 5 and 6-year-olds know how. As their little voices chattered away, the woman and I talked, sharing pieces of our stories with one another and finding connections between us that I never would have known had I not been open to letting the conversation happen. As we left, she shook my hand, saying how delighted she was to meet us, and then said (pointing to Zoey), “Your daughter. Look at her. She’s beautiful, she’s happy, she’s wonderful. She’s going to be just fine.” “And you,” she continued, looking me in the eye, “You’re going to be just fine, too.”
I dropped her hand and hugged her instead. Sitting by that fireplace had done just what it was supposed to do.
* * *
A few weeks ago in my Everyday Nostalgia series, I talked about spreading warmth. But what I didn’t talk about was sharing warmth, and the invitation it can create to experience a collective experience with someone else. The flickering flames I’d been sitting next to and the larger ones I’d been longing for were more symbolic than anything. Perhaps it was wasn’t just about my quest for warmth through physical things, but it also was about my desire for connections again, and the warmth that created within myself and with others.
As I’ve mentioned before, Everyday Nostalgia is about more than just nostalgia: It’s about remembering and renewing and becoming, and it’s also about connecting—to ourselves and others—in ways that remind us of the way life should be, the way it can feel in spite of how fast everything else may be moving around us.
So take some time today to slow down, gather your loved ones around the warmth of a candle or a fire or both, and share those special moments together—that hygge time—that are sure to do wonders for your soul.
* * *
The other day, as Zoey and I were getting our mail, I saw a young woman looking slightly overwhelmed as an apartment manager slid some floor plans across for her to peruse. It reminded me of being in that same position almost a year ago, where those pages held the beginning of the rest of my life alongside the placement of my future refrigerator.
The manager started talking about the countless amenities the complex provided, as they were surely strong selling points. “Oh,” the manager said, “we are also in the process of installing a firepit. We’ll have cozy spaces and chairs around it, and we’re planning on having a monthly s’mores gathering. It’ll be perfect for the summer, and we think it will be a great way for our tenants to meet people and make friends.”
“Mommy!” Zoey’s little voice exclaimed. “Did you hear that? S’mores? A firepit? Can we go when they open it?”
I looked at Zoey, her face just as hopeful as her voice had been. I gave her a quick squeeze and said, “I can’t think of anything more fun that spending some spring and summer nights around a firepit and enjoying some s’mores with you, and maybe some new friends, too.”
The girl at the desk looked over at us as she got up to take a tour of what might become her new apartment. She smiled, and as I smiled back, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Zoey’s little hand start waving hi.
* * *
Later that night, we lit a candle and cuddled together to read a book and share the stories about our day. Zoey read a few pages, dropped her bookmark between the pages, and then lifted her face to kiss my cheek. “This is the favorite part of my day,” she said.
Until the hearth of the firepit arrives, these kind of hygge gatherings—between Zoey’s heart and mine and the people we meet and smile at and wave to and share ourselves and our stories with—will work just fine for me.
* * *
Talk to us! What’s your favorite way to share warmth and connect with your friends and loved ones? Do you gather around a fireplace for warm conversation? Light candles and read together? Something else? Let us know in the comments!
Week 8 Suggested Reading
The Little Book of Hygge introduces you to this cornerstone of Danish life, and offers advice and ideas on incorporating it into your own life, such as:
Get comfy. Take a break. Be here now. Turn off the phones. Turn down the lights. Bring out the candles. Build relationships. Spend time with your tribe. Give yourself a break from the demands of healthy living. Cake is most definitely Hygge. Live life today, like there is no coffee tomorrow.
From picking the right lighting to organizing a hygge get-together to dressing hygge, Wiking shows you how to experience more joy and contentment the Danish way.
(Pulled from book description on Amazon)
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Just joining me on my journey? Catch up on the Everyday Nostalgia series here.
At the Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.