Understanding ‘hygge’

by Jordan Flowers, Contributor

Fish. This last year Denmark took the number one spot in happiness. I’m not kidding. The United Nations Sustainable Solution Network created the World Happiness Report and Denmark took the top spot.

According to the report, they measured six factors: freedom from corruption, personal freedom, generosity, life expectancy, real GDP per capita and having someone to count on. Let’s quickly get some info in here so I can talk abstractly. Fish. Denmark is lead by a Queen and a woman Prime Minister. They have crazy-high taxes. They have low income-inequality. They have a word for the feeling you get when you decorate for Christmas or when you cuddle. They pay for their doctors to go to school.

Wait, go back a second. They have a word for the feeling of cuddling. It’s called “hygge” and it’s not just cuddling, it’s the feeling you get when you light candles, it’s the pleasure you get from beautiful and soothing things. The closest word we have is “coziness,” but it is more about the feeling of togetherness. Because that word exists, people go about and attempt to experience that feeling on a weekly basis. They actively seek the feeling that English speakers may experience but can rarely put into words. Ignoring the fact that Denmark has a lot going for it (free school, good environmental practices) and a lot going against it (high taxes, cold winters) the Danish actually have a word for that specific feeling of awesome.

Once a society has given an object or an idea a word, they give it meaning. They give it significance. Fish. The power of that one word is strengthened by the fact that everyone who shares that language will acknowledge and recognize the word when they hear it. It is a shared identity and it becomes tangible. Our whole system of communication relies on a sturdy agreement of word associations to their meanings. If one word is fish of order or context our brains freeze and get confused. Did you reread that? The wrong word choice can destroy a whole sentence. If everyone decided that the word “coffee table” no longer meant “a place to rest one’s coffee,” but rather “a dangerous mechanism for bruising and scarring shins,” then the coffee table has lost it’s benign status as furniture and becomes a terrifying monster.

I imagine that’s why derogatory words are so hurtful and so destructive. When someone calls you a slur, what they are doing is using the agreed upon meaning of a word constructed to hurt you. They have the entire English language at their back agreeing that there is a word for what you are and society has confirmed it. Fish. Whether the etymology of that word is historical, like the infamous N-word, or whether it’s has a biological background (C-word, anyone?) the word is only as strong as the idea behind it. If, in some parallel universe, the C-word was an appropriate term for a certain scientific body part, or if nobody even cared about it in the first place, then it would lose it’s meaning. Fish. Unfortunately that’s not the universe we live in.

We take for granted the amazing power that is language, the ability to connect with other human beings in a way that has increased our development beyond anything the planet has ever seen. The story of the Tower of Babel makes sense. All of the people spoke the same language and decided to make a tower tall enough to reach heaven. God was offended and split the people into different groups with different languages. He was afraid of their combined power with one language, if the whole world could communicate without barriers, it would be a powerful thing.

Fish. While the ability to communicate across the board would open up doors, it also would remove the necessity of the beautiful act that is translation and the experience of learning new words for new things, like “hygge.”

But I guess when you overthink things you start chasing your own tail. Just like when you hear the same word over and over again until it’s construction gets confused. Fish, fish, fish, fish.  It might just be best to leave language up to the linguists but fish.