Of the billions of people existing in our intricate social framework, attempting to understand themselves and one another so as to exist and subsist despite the ever-encroaching void, it makes sense that language is used to comprehend this bizarre thing that is living. From the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig, which invents words to describe feelings one didn't realize others also felt, to the growing incorporation of foreign words into the English lexicon, people are increasingly venturing beyond classic linguistic boundaries. Such exploration of knowledge recognizes that people are perhaps not so alone in their perceptions.
The Oxford Dictionary declared the Danish word hygge (pronounced "hoo-gah") a finalist for the 2016 word of the year, and its popularity has continued to grow in 2017. The word translates roughly to “cozy,” but surpasses this adjective to connote an all-encompassing atmosphere and aesthetic of plush yet understated comfort.
Entire books are devoted to the exploration of the concept, like Helen Russell's The Year of Living Danishly and Meik Wiking's The Little Book of Hygge, but Pinterest sums it up quite well in its collage of images and checklists. Calm color schemes, a plethora of candles, the presence of a few close friends, outdoor elements like pine cones and furs, good books, warm socks, warm drinks, warm sweaters: the essentials of achieving hygge. An array of crafts, home-decorating suggestions, and even a hygge challenge—which includes goals like perfecting one's hot chocolate recipe and creating a Hyggekrog, or cozy nook in the home— are among the search results for the entry of the word. So what does this newfound obsession with hygge reveal?
Perhaps it represents a reaction to the culture of overcommitment and perfection. The fact that some want to retreat into the timeless comfort of a warm blanket by the fireside can hardly be considered surprising, when most are faced daily with a barrage of work emails, endless readings, papers, household chores, and envy-inducing social media posts. To hygge is to simplify and appreciate, and to practice mindful and timeless self-care without the pretension of trendy fitness classes or expensive smoothies. Perhaps the adoption of this word and all it entails means that people can slow down.
Of all the words that could have characterized the past year, hygge is one that people chose to hold onto. If the adoption of a foreign word into the English language shows international interconnectedness, then the fact that the word itself denotes people sharing an intimate space only further exemplifies this idea. And that's quite a hopeful thing for the fostering of healthier relationships and discourse. One can hygge in solitude, but according to The Little Book of Hygge, most people associate the concept with the company of close friends and family.
The BC community exemplifies microcosms of hygge both on campus and all over the world. Returning home for Thanksgiving, many reconnected with loved ones over hot cider and pie, safe within the warmth of living rooms decorated for the holidays. Even those who lacked the traditional Thanksgiving experience may have experienced hygge—the concept is centered around feelings of comfort and cosiness, not just the physical materials that create it.
In the final weeks of the semester, facing the onslaught of papers and finals, students can hold onto hygge. In between study sessions, watching classic Christmas movies with roommates or baking cookies can ease stress, and, as the Danes (who have the highest national rate of happiness) know, increase students' overall quality of life.
Beyond comfort, hygge continues to represent seeing the best that other cultures have to offer and appreciating the universality of basic needs and desires. Language is a tool to convey thoughts—to understand and learn from each other through communication. And through the word hygge, and the gradually increasing popularity of its usage, one can see the value people place all over place on being understood.