THROUGH A TOWNIE’S LENS
By Jock Lauterer
Browsing through a card shop years ago in the Baltic seaport town of Turku, Finland, I chanced upon this card, depicting two decidedly jolly old ladies with all the humble comforts of hearth and home, enjoying themself immensely in spite of the dreadful weather outside.
Upon inspection, I found a dozen such images of “the Aunties,” reveling in good times, no matter what the Scandinavian weather threw at them. It was as if Finnish artist Inge Löök was trying to teach us something about aging with grace while achieving a sense of well-being in simple gifts — and most especially, intentionally appreciating the season.
In a word, the Aunties were hygge.
Following up on last week’s not-so-subtle advice column on holiday coping in the age of COVID, this week it’s, “Have yourself a hygge little New Year’s.
From the Finn’s Scandinavian neighbors across the Baltic, we get the concept of hygge, as it’s been popularized by the happy Danes. Pronounced HOO-gah, and loosely translated as “coziness of the soul,” hygge is practiced with an almost religious fervor by the Danes, who regularly top out as the happiest nation in the world, surveyed by the United Nations.
So, if they live with nine months of bad weather and 17-hour-long cold, dark nights, why are the Danes so relentlessly jolly? Simple answer to a complex question: instead of resisting the darkness and the cold, they have learned to savor the season.
Note, the Danes don’t have the monopoly on the practice. In Norway, it’s “koselig;” the Germans have “Gemutlichkeit; the Dutch call it “Gezelligheit. And in Irish pubs that are often family-friendly and inter-generational, they can have a separate cozy nook called a “snuggery.”
According to Meik Wiking, author of “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living,” Hygge is found in 10 ingredients:
Atmosphere: Turn down the lights, go for candles, firelight; Presence: Be here now. Turn off the phones; Pleasure: A sharing of the moment, coffee, chocolate, a beverage of your choice; Equality: Share the spotlight. Little i and big We; Gratitude: Take it in. This might be as good as it gets; Harmony: No bragging, relax and listen; Comfort: Get comfy, snug, relax, exhale; Truce: No drama, no politics; Togetherness: Build relationships, learn about each other; Shelter: This is your tribe. This is a place of peace and security.
Wiking, who is also the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute of Copenhagen, and who has spent his career studying the subject, advises, “Get consciously cozy …” whether it be with your spouse or partner, but especially with a small group of like-minded folk who recognize the need for a survival tactic. He calls it “the antidote to cold winter, rainy days … the darkness.” And especially now, I would add, hygge is an antidote to the isolation of this pandemic.
Last spring, as COVID’s shelter-in-place mandate took effect, we launched a Zoom hygge group that includes two other couples who expressed interest in trying the practice.
The weekly ritual of sharing, laughter, intimacy and well-being has been a life-saver.
Back in early March, in our innocence, I’m sure our little hygge group thought COVID would be under control and gone by the late summer — and our weekly Zoom hygge sessions would be a quaint thing of the past.
As over the last nine months we’ve been there for each other through some tough times, our hygge pals — a pod, if you will — has matured into a vital social support system. Little did we suspect back then how the weekly Zoom hygge meet-ups would turn into one of the most far-reaching and therapeutic survival tactics of 2020.
For more on Finish artist Inge Nöök, www.ingelook.com
For more on hygge and Meik Wiking and the Happiness Research Institute of Copenhagen, www.meikwiking.com
Jock Lauterer began selling newspapers for Jim Shumaker and Roland Giduz on the streets of Chapel Hill at the age of 8. For the last 20 years, he has served as a senior lecturer and adjunct professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, teaching photojournalism and community journalism.