In August, I spent a few days in Copenhagen. It is an instantly likeable city, with colourful buildings, beautiful castles, expansive green spaces and a maze of canals. However, it is the people who make the city special and there is a lot that we could learn from them. Firstly, Danish people are extremely eco-conscious, which is evident in their endless network of cycle paths and their innovative approaches to adding more greenery to the city – such as by growing grass and moss on the rooftops of buildings. They even run litter-picking schemes, where people can rent a kayak for one hour completely free of charge, if they return with some litter they found in the water. Above all, Danes are incredibly welcoming and friendly. In fact, Denmark is consistently listed as one of the happiest countries in the world. In Danish culture, they place significant value on appreciating and preserving a high quality of life, and at the heart of this lies the concept of ‘hygge’.
Hygge, pronounced ‘hoo-gah’, is all about comfort, cosiness and the warm feeling you get when you are truly appreciating the good things in life. It is the happiness of being surrounded by friends or family, both when celebrating big moments and nothing in particular. It is the comfort of being wrapped up in a blanket, reading a book or watching a film with a loved one. It is the peace you feel when looking at the flickering glow of candlelight.
The word has Norwegian origins and originally referred to ideas of ‘well-being’ and ‘consolation’. Today, translations vary, but they usually focus on the feeling of warmth and cosiness. Perhaps, one translation of this word could be ‘home’. Whether ‘home’ is a place, a person, or several people, it certainly means more than just a physical house; it is where we feel comfortable and safe. However, hygge admittedly encompasses much more than that. It is a state of being, more than anything. Even though it may not have a direct translation, that doesn’t mean that the values of this concept can’t translate to life here in the UK.
Hygge is most often linked to winter, when we spend time with family, drink mulled wine, bake gingerbread and watch Christmas films, in rooms lit up by the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree. However, it certainly fits with the cosiness of autumn too. Durham is a city that wears the seasons particularly well, as it looks beautiful at all times of the year. However, it was arguably made to be seen in autumn, when the leaves are painted a deep orange and the rain turns the cobbled streets into streams, reflecting the streetlights like a Leonid Afremov painting. In other words, it is the perfect time for Durham students to embrace hygge. As the dark nights are drawing in, you could buy a candle or a soft blanket for your room, grab a hot chocolate in a study break, have a film night with your friends or go for a walk by the river on a crisp morning or a rainy afternoon. Hygge is not necessarily about making every day enjoyable, but rather finding a moment of enjoyment in each day.
So, regardless of whether you adore autumn or miss the summer sunshine, this concept is a useful reminder to value or alter your environment. This might help you feel more present, grateful and generally happier. In short, as the Danes love to say, ‘der findes intet der hedder dårligt vejr, kun dårligt påklædning’ (‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing’)!
Photography by: Helena Macaulay