Jenny McCartney Jenny McCartney

The competitive cult of cosiness

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Do you remember the first wave of hygge, in 2015? It seems a long time ago — back in the freewheeling technicolour of a pre-Covid world — but at that time hygge was the hottest thing to come out of Denmark. The country already attracted envy for its vigorous welfare state, covetable knitwear and high rating on the international happiness index, but the new export outshone them all. It roughly translated as ‘cosy’, people said, but the English word was frail and puny next to the soul-feeding, friendship-cementing, quasi-spiritual force that was hygge. The latter signified home-baked bread and cakes, hand-knitted socks and friends laughing around a wooden dinner table as a hotpot bubbled on the stove.

It was a feeling, a philosophy, a way of life, and the publishing industry went nuts for it: there was The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking; Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness by Marie Tourell Soderberg; and The Book of Hygge: the Danish Art of Living Well, by Louisa Thomsen Brits, among others. Wiking, an attractively rumpled, bearded Dane who runs the Happiness Research Institute thinktank in Copenhagen, spent a significant chunk of his book discussing the importance of low, diffuse lighting. One achieved this with well-placed lamps creating ‘caves of light’, he said, and a plethora of candles: ‘When Danes are asked what they most associate with hygge, an overwhelming 85 per cent will mention candles.’

One of the paradoxes of the hygge craze was that — although officially dismissive of vulgar consumerism — it was stupendous at selling us things. Not just books and candles, but rustic side tables, alpaca blankets and charmingly irregular pottery mugs. You could hardly hear the log fire crackling for the dinging of cash registers. Of course, like all popular movements, it spawned its begrudgers.

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