Warming up to hygge

A traditional Danish concept is giving Americans the warm fuzzies. But a Scandinavian Studies professor warns we might be missing the true essence of hygge.

If you’ve ever sought respite from Wisconsin’s frigid winter in a cozy blanket, hot drink or conversation around a crackling fire, you’ve experienced hygge.

Pronounced “hoo-guh” or “hue-guh,” with no direct translation in English, hygge is a Danish concept that implies a sense of warmth and wellbeing. It’s the ability to slow down and enjoy a cozy moment, especially with loved ones.

“My definition is ‘pleasant togetherness,’” says Claus Elholm Andersen, the Paul and Renate Madsen assistant professor of Scandinavian Studies in the Department of German, Nordic and Slavic.

An expert on the literature and culture of Denmark, where he was born, as well as the works of Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård, Andersen says Danes plan these pleasant, relaxed times, enjoy them in the moment and talk about them afterward.

“When we sit together, we say we’re having a hyggelig time,” he says. “It’s very much acknowledged. It’s very much part of the language, and we create it in part through language.”

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