Tuesday, May 02, 2017

'The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort, and Connection' (2017)

Louisa Thomsen Brits, The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort, and Connection (New York: Plume, 2017; first published in the UK in 2016). Photography by Susan Bell.

"Hygge (pronounced 'hoo-gah') is a quality of presence and an experience of belonging and togetherness. It is a feeling of being warm, safe, comforted, and sheltered. . ." Page [7]. (In the UK version, the pronunciation is rendered "HYOO-guh"). 

The author may not have had this example in mind, but consider Tony Soprano, main character from The Sopranos. To ease the stress that comes with being a mob boss, he spends quality time with a favored goomar, enjoys a bottle of wine, savors a good meal. One of his favorite lines is, "Take it easy." And he's not even Danish!

Most of the ideas and examples in The Book of Hygge are low-key. They are the opposite of feeling harried. rushed, annoyed, irritated, high-strung, anxious and alienated. 

Of anti-hygge matters, consider advertisements: they play on fears or fantasies, no different than the manipulative methods of snake oil salesmanship of bygone days. Treat an ailment -- that may not even really exist -- with miracle potions. Take a pill to ease the constipation caused by your opioid addiction! Drive this shiny car or rugged truck and feel both dominant and free. Speed through a pristine wilderness and become one with nature, even as you trample it under your wheels.  See the big sporting event where one team will flatten another and make you feel tribalized. Buy insurance! Invest! Go to an artificial seaside resort and be treated like royalty, even if you are a serf. Go on a cruise. Rush to the drive-thru of a hundred fast-food franchises. And whatever you do, hurry! Hurry! Limited time only! Coupons! Discounts! Hurry! Limited quantities! Going out of business sale!  Give money! Hurry! Hurry! Before it's "too late!"

Hygge is the opposite of everything in the previous paragraph. It is neither fear nor fantasy, but rather much simpler. 

The Book of Hygge is peppered with illustrative quotations. I like this one in particular, from William Morris, an influential 19th century Arts & Crafts proponent:  "The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life."  (Page 84). That's it! There's nothing more deadening than lack of interest, indifference, and lack of curiosity.

Hyggering is a groovy way of grokking. With Germans, think Gemütlichkeit. In French, there's the more all-encompassing concept of joie de vivre.  
The Book of Hygge gives some flavor of this ideal Danish way of life, and certainly it's easy to see how different the Danish approach is from idealized American materialism and "freedom."  Take care of each other. Quality over quantity. "Less is more" (from Robert Browning, page 152, but also an architectural philosophy developed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe).  

Another quip from William Morris: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." (Page 157). I'm down with that. This syncs well with the principles of feng shui and with Marie Kondo's KonMari Method of asking of all material things: "Does this spark joy?"  If not, forget-about-it. 

Today's Rune: Fertility. 

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

sounds like a book of wisdom