Since the 1990s, hygge has become central to any attempt to define an otherwise elusive Danish culture.
Hygge” has become a household word in the English language, by way of the lifestyle pages of the New York Times and the Guardian. A Danish word pronounced ”hew-geh,” according to the least hapless pronunciation guide, hygge can be described as the art of “being consciously cozy,” or the innocent pleasure of making oneself comfortable. In 2016, Collins’ Dictionary declared hygge the runner-up Word of the Year, after “Brexit.”
Why do non-Danes even care about hygge? One answer lies in the how-to hygge guides that have been marketed to middle-class British and American audiences since roughly 2016, bearing titles like The Book of Hygge, How to Hygge, and, most grotesque of all, Happy as a Dane. Common to each of these books (and there are dozens more) is that they treat hygge as a means of living the Danish Dream.
Hygge helps Danes imagine who they are and what they should do together. And it helps the rest of the world fantasize about the good life — a Danish export. Since the launch of the UN World Happiness Report in 2012, Denmark has consistently finished in top three countries. The international appeal of the Danish Dream has circulated widely, and it’s not always about hygge. For democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders, the Danish Dream can be realized if ordinary people demand a redistribution of wealth: progressive taxation financing universal health care and equal access to education. As a recent Jacobin headline put it, “You Don’t Want Hygge. You Want Social Democracy.”
As a Dane I’m often required to explain what hygge is all about. I usually offer a comparison to something like “chillaxing,” with a nod to the context of the Scandinavian welfare state. With Norwegian being the only other language to include the word hygge, I was curious to hear what my Norwegian brother-in-law had to say about it.
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