I’ve read it on the Internet in at least three places, so it must be true: one secret to why Danes are so happy is the concept of hygge (say it: HOO-gah). Loosely (and inadequately) translated “coziness,” this idea evokes images of nubby blankets, hearty soup, a crackling fire, candlelight, and long conversations with family and friends. Rather than gritting their teeth and seeking merely to endure the long, frigid winter, hygge enables Danes to “lean in” to winter, turning it on its head and making it a season of warmth, light, and joy.
Here in Central Texas, we have very little need for hygge of the nubby blanket variety. However, I’ve been thinking about the concept a lot lately as we approach summer, which is our own never-ending season where Nature does its best to kill off the human population by way of extreme weather.
Everyone here loves summer right now, when we’re ready for school to get out, when it’s warm enough to go to the splash pad but not so hot that your eyeballs hurt when you get into your parked car. But in about three weeks, local sentiments will shift and everyone will settle into hating summer, hating the heat, hating Texas, and dreaming of the mountains. The hostility typically lasts until after Christmas, and this is the point where I think we could use a little hygge, because half a year is too long to live with that kind of negativity.
What would hygge look like in the Texas summer? Don’t even think about blankets or hot chocolate or you’ll get a heat stroke. But there are plenty of ways to lean in to the simple pleasures of summer time–enjoying the season not just in spite of the heat, but because of it.
Principle #1: Don’t fight the limitations of the season
Danes don’t bike to work in February; Texans don’t in August. There are other times of the year that are MADE for hiking, picnics, garden weddings, zoo visits, music festivals, and outdoor recreation of any kind. But unless your enthusiasm for jogging is coupled with an enthusiasm for waking up at 5 AM, you’re just not going to enjoy it in the summer. STOP TRYING.
Summer days are for staying indoors, so plan accordingly. Join an air conditioned gym, get a season pass to local museums, invest in some board games and art supplies, plan to organize all your junky closets. It’s hard to want to stay inside during the balmy winter and spring, so shut-in summer is a great time to get around to all the work and fun to be found inside your four climate-controlled walls.
Principle #2: Indulge the senses
Wake your senses out of their summer lethargy with some simple sensory pleasures. Summer tastes like popsicles, grilled corn on the cob, peaches, watermelon, ice cream, margaritas, fresh salsa, and iced tea. Train yourself to notice the sensory delights that come with the heat: smells of sunscreen and citronella, cool water during an evening swim, bright colors of beach towels and pedicured toes, sounds of happy shrieking children playing in the sprinkler. There is much to enjoy in the summer (and fall) months if we can only look beyond the obvious sensation of “I’m hot.”
Principle #3: Escape
In Denmark, everyone who can escapes for weeks at a time to various Mediterranean destinations during the winter. Similarly, summer vacation is a great time to chillax in Wisconsin, Siberia, or other cooler climates, if your budget and work schedule allow.
Not everyone can escape in the literal sense, and this is where your local library comes in. “There’s no frigate like a book,” says Emily Dickinson, “to take us lands away.” And what better place to camp out and read than a building that your tax dollars pay to keep at frigid temperatures?
Any book that captures your imagination will do the trick (Check out the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide or follow Leslie and me on Instagram at @windowsandmirrorsblog for ideas). But if you’re especially oppressed by the summer heat, try picking books that help you escape to the cold! Here are some titles to get you started:
- The Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. These cozy mysteries are set in Three Pines, Quebec, which is the perfect small town except for all the murders.
- The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Keep reading through These Happy Golden Years and you’ll get to the scene where Almanzo and Laura take weekly rides in his cutter in temperatures as low as eighty below zero.
- Anything by Jack London if you’re looking for something cool and gritty
- In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe it’s always winter but never Christmas, until Aslan shows up!
- The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. A British couple moves to rural Denmark so he can take his dream job working at Lego. She’s a freelance writer who spends the year trying to figure out why the Danes are the happiest people on earth.
- Take your kids along for the ride with anything from this list of snowy day picture books from Read Aloud Revival.
Principle #4: Stick together
It can be tempting to get so hunkered down into your own survival that you forget about the community around you. But essential to the concept of hygge is not just being cozy, but being cozy together.
So when you take a day trip to the children’s museum, ask some friends to come along. Organize a snow-themed summer book club. Sign up to participate in a local VBS. Go hang out at the splash pad immediately after an early breakfast. Chat with your spouse on the back porch after the kids are in bed. And the best bonding happens through shared suffering. So if you must tour the Dallas Arboretum with your kids at 3 PM in August, at least do it with a friend, and you will have a vivid shared memory that you can laugh at together for years to come.
Summer is coming, and you know the heat will be here to stay, so you might as well cozy up to the idea and go all in.
SIDEBAR: As I talked about this idea with Stephen, we agreed that since “hygge” is a thoroughly Danish term for this cold-weather concept, we needed to come up with an American English word for the summertime version. Stephen suggested using the word CHILL. I think it’s brilliant, because it is a term that already includes both the physical and emotional components of this attitude. So there you have it!