By Dana Gornall
I recently came across a term that seems to be trending in the U.S., hygge.
Hygge is a Danish word that is used to describe those delicate sensations we feel while watching the sun set, or when we sit down with an almost too warm, yet not-so-hot cup of coffee. It’s like getting a really good hug from someone special. It’s the moments that are comforting—those tiny flashes of time that seem to imprint themselves in our minds and hearts; they are the places we sometimes mentally come back to when reminiscing or when we are missing someone or something.
With hygge, the purpose is to find a way to surround yourself with things that bring those feelings back to you, whether they be physical reminders like pictures or mementos or whether it be giving yourself the time to sit with that warm cup of coffee.
I think it is ingenious that this abstract feeling has a name and that it is a growing movement. It originated in Denmark to help the people who lived there get through a long and dark winter. Hygge can be the act of adding pictures and artwork in your house that remind you of those moments, or by putting a small seashell from the beach in your pocket or on your desk while you are at work.
By encompassing our daily lives with reminders of happy times and things that make us feel cozy and warm, we are constantly bringing ourselves back to that happy, comforting state. Most of all, hygge is about making yourself aware and mindful of those moments. Because truthfully we can’t hold them.
We know that life and all that makes up life is transient. That cup of coffee will eventually be drained, the candles will burn out, the seashell in your pocket may crack and break into dust. So what would be the point of surrounding yourself with comforting things if it all eventually fades away?
Recently, I was driving the long stretch of highway toward where I work. The sun was fairly high already, and beaming full blast in my window warming my skin. The song on the radio had just ended, and I heard the first few familiar notes of the next song. Feeling my skin tighten and a chill rush over me, I was instantly transported back in time with those first few notes.
I could see the yellow-green carpet of my bedroom at my parents’ house, smell the dusty fibers of pulled shag yarn as I laid on the floor so many times, phone cord twisted around my leg while I talked on the phone to my friends. It was 1985, I was about 12 years old—awkward, leggy, had short hair on my head and braces on my teeth.
Feeling the chill settle and fade, I sat back with a smile as I listened to Purple Rain play through the speakers in my car. I almost wished I could go back—even for just a few minutes or a day—and be that 12-year-old girl again, insecurities and all.
It made me think about how many times I have wished I could just reach out and grasp a moment as it was happening and hold on firmly. That first kiss with someone you are just beginning to know; the way the sun splashes the entire sky with a rosy glow as it sinks below the horizon; the giggle of my son when he was a toddler; the way my daughter’s head rested on my shoulder as I rocked her to sleep late at night in a quiet house with only the creak of the rocking chair against the floor boards. They are all smaller pieces of bigger pieces of time that just seem to slip away, leaving only snapshots behind.
Lost in the memories for awhile and listening to that song, I began thinking about this need to grasp—to hold onto points in time as though they were solid things that could be held.
The Buddha talks about non-attachment and how when we hold onto anything (or attempt to hold onto anything) this causes suffering. Moments are fleeting—I can’t stop the sun from sinking past the horizon any more than I can stop my children from growing into adults or the numbers ticking away at the clock on my laptop.
We humans can be fascinated (and at the same time perplexed) by time. Schedules seem to dominate our lives, no matter if it is a point in the day when we need to be to work, to get children to school, to take our lunches or to eat our dinners. Time always seems to be the one thing we are either chasing or running from. It’s stressful and probably responsible for at least half or more of the anxiety we feel on a regular basis. Why else do we have road rage in traffic? Why else would we snap at our family members when a deadline is breathing hot air down our necks?
And yet, all is impermanent and transient.
As I sit here typing away at the keys on my laptop, the whole world is going on around me and nothing is stopping. It’s summertime, and here in Ohio the air is finally warm, the grass is finally green again and everything about my days is a little more relaxed. I reach for my cup of coffee and sip the warm, bitter liquid, letting myself pause. Hygge.
And then the moment’s gone. Like being on both sides of a paper-thin sheet of glass, I’m caught between wanting to cement this sliver of time into something solid, and knowing that wanting is what keeps me in an endless cycle of yearning. Maybe it’s there—that middle space somewhere on both sides of the glass—where we can see it, the wanting and the letting go, ending and beginning. It’s there where we see the dance and pull of back and forth.
And somewhere in the in-between we find drops of enlightenment sinking into understanding.
Editor: John Author