‘Hygge’ is no longer in fashion

Alberto García

The new ways of approaching happiness are getting rid of ideas like Groucho Marx’s maxim that “there are more important things than money, but they’re so expensive!” The Scandinavians, champions of social and emotional wellbeing, boast of systems in which that previous happiness is possible almost for free. The Danish concept of hygge was popular. According to Meik Wiking, one of the writers responsible for this, it has to do with a warm ambience, with disconnecting, or with making ‘us’ more important than ‘me’. But now, hard-to-pronounce words are making hygge obsolete.

The new winners are kalsarikannit, lagom and sisu. If hygge was based on a simple premise –enjoying simple things and retaining the present– these new words provide an alternative touch, something perhaps more daring. Hygge advocated dozing in front of a fireplace, enjoying some hot chocolate or replacing those formal trousers with others that were baggy but comfortable. On the other hand kalsarikannit, which is considered by some as the trend of the year, has been defined as “the feeling of getting drunk at home alone and nude.”

“Is it a noun? A verb? Do you kalsarikannit or do you do a kalsarikannit? Who cares? It’s just that my house has been a temple of kalsarikannit all this time and I want to spend each weekend searching for holiness.  Goodbye to pants,” writes Joseph Hernández in his column for the Chicago Tribune. Its power has been so great that its creators have dreamed up emojis with the term. In the drawings a man, wearing underpants and with a beer in hand, smiles from an armchair, or a woman in a nightgown lies down holding a glass of wine.

Publications about wellbeing and fashion have treated it as a new kind of “party for the thirty-somethings”. Tired of dressing up to go out or make reservations in places that are crowded, the Finns who want to get together with friends to drink and chat are choosing comfort and intimacy. Besides, it’s easy to obey the rules, which tend to coincide with people who don’t need outside things to enjoy themselves. Fireplaces, candles or relaxing background music… the important thing  is that what you’re wearing not be formal. That the couple, the friends or someone on his own dresses as comfortably as possible in the comfort of their own home, and then calmly enjoys a cocktail. When there are more people, according to the Chicago Tribune columnist,   “there’s a more sophisticated and transgressive touch to this peaceful and rather unsocial plan.”

Without any need to upset work and social life, the Scandinavians know that there’s a time for everything. Given its facet of combining different aspects of life, balance is one of its priorities. In Sweden, and also as a reaction to the Finnish hygge, they’ve introduced the lagom theory, which means something like a “middle ground”. The aim is not to achieve happiness but to find a more sustainable life. It takes in all facets of life, from saving money to rationing stress or free time. Elliot Stocks –editor of Lagom, the magazine that reflects this lifestyle–  feels that “more than a state of mind it’s a way of living.” Examples: recycling waste, reusing garments, or paying attention when using combustibles or even chemical products such as those in makeup or bath gels. Personal care is linked to the environment. And the Swedes, pioneers in nature conservation, want to express it with this word.

Any present trend also has to do with the way we approach the future. Everyone knows how anxious we can feel in the face of uncertainty or our incapacity to overcome blunders, and so the Finns have devised a pair of Oriental syllables to describe facing misfortune. Accustomed to inclement weather, to ancient battles between civilisations and to the modern new forms of life, they say “bravery, resilience and durability” are what define sisu. “The people who have the most sisu will be capable of overcoming obstacles and will win out,” they say. Through temperance, flexibility to meet the cruel blows of destiny, and resources to get out of trouble.

 

Maybe all of this could be found in ancient Greece, but currently concepts like sisu, lagom and kalsarikannit are heard of more than ataraxia or epicureanism. Not to put too fine a point on it but even hygge may be closer to us than we think. As Groucho himself said, “happiness is in small things: a small yacht, a small mansion, a small fortune.”

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