Well, it’s that time of the year again. Outside my office window as I write this, it’s not even dinnertime but it’s already getting dark. The temperature is plunging, the skies are gunship gray, there’s fluffy snow floating down, and through leaf-bare trees Christmas lights wink in the distance. But I’d like to set the holidays aside for a moment and focus on the winter season itself. Because, let’s face it, for many of us it’s going to be around a lot longer than the holiday lights and carols.
By now I’m sure you’ve encountered the concept of hygge—the Danish word that roughly translates to coziness—featured in a plethora of books and articles over the past few years. I recently saw yet another article about hygge as it pertains to a long Michigan winter, and it got me thinking about how the concept applies to my writing life here.
Unsure who to trust for a default definition, I went to the Danish Tourism Board to find that Hygge: “means so much more than merely cosy [sic].”
“Hygge goes far in illuminating the Danish soul. In essence, hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Cosying up with a loved one for a movie – that’s hygge, too. And there’s nothing more hygge than sitting around with friends and family, discussing the big and small things in life. Perhaps hygge explains why the Danes are some of the happiest people in the world.”
Indeed there is a bit more than coziness there. I see the terms: good, warm, atmosphere, and glow—all apt additions. They reference loved ones, and togetherness, and discussion. Those are fitting, too.
But, for me, there’s an aspect that I think this informal definition alludes to but doesn’t mention, which is a sense of well-being. And when I think about coziness as it pertains to well-being, I think of finding a sense of inner peace. Even if only temporarily.
Which made me realize that writing plays a role in my own definition of hygge. Please make yourself cozy, and I’ll explain.
Cozy now? Do you have your favorite hot beverage, in your favorite mug? Are you wearing one of your coziest sweaters? Oh, and socks! Can’t forget those. Really nice, warm ones. Maybe a throw over your legs and feet? Good.
Because for some of you, what I’m about to say next might not inspire the warm, fuzzies. Here it is: I like winter.
Sorry, it’s true. I like cold and snow and wind. I like the frozen tundra, and ice on the lakes. I like my parka, boots, hat and gloves. But more than any of those things, I love the muffled silence of a snowy forest, and the deep black and bright stars of a winter night sky. And I love hunkering down by the fire with a good book and a glass of something warming (which is distinct from, but not exclusive of, being warm to the touch).
Having grown up on the “lake-effect” side of the Mighty Mitten, I found my way to hygge long ago. And stories—particularly those of the written-word variety—have always played a central role for me in finding comfort during inclement weather. Which I suppose explains why I so naturally took to writing during inclement weather.
There is another aspect to my fondness for winter writing. Almost seven years ago I mentioned it in another essay I wrote about winter writing: “There is solitude in winter. There is reflection, yes, and silence. In the depths of winter, here in our little resort town, I am alone in the world. Alone with my thoughts, my emotions, my dreams. I am alone with my characters, my stories.”
The passage reminds me how solitude and quiet and hunkering are part of my own hygge. Which might set me apart from the Danish Tourism Board, with their emphasis on togetherness. But not entirely. They also mention discussion of “the big and small things in life.” Which I think is central to our well-being.
A Royal Malaise
We recently watched an episode of The Crown titled Moondust (season 3, episode 7) that prompted me to further thought on the issue. (It seems this season of the popular show has provided quite a bit of writerly insight–check out our own David Corbett’s brilliant piece on forgiveness.)
*Warning: there are a few mild spoilers in this section for the episode.
Moondust features Prince Philip and his fascination with the historic lunar mission of Apollo 11 and its three astronauts. Putting it mildly, the Duke of Edinburgh is having a midlife crisis. Perhaps more accurately, Philip is experiencing a full-on existential crisis. Granted, it’s a little tough to evoke empathy for such a privileged man’s internal strife. But setting aside the privilege and the misogynistic whininess of being the husband of a woman who is much more important and powerful, I actually came to feel for the Prince (in no small part due to a wonderful portrayal by Tobias Menzies).
Prince Philip rails about being a “man of action,” which he expects to be the solution to such a crisis. At one point, regarding his sense of lacking, he even says (paraphrasing): “Thinking and talking are not going to fix this.” But he is clearly adrift, regardless of any “action” he takes. A sense of malaise weighs upon him. No matter what he “does,” he feels purposeless and unfulfilled.
The episode obviously takes place in summer (the lunar landing occurred on July 20, 1969). But Philip’s dilemma brought my idea for this essay—winter writing and hygge—to mind.
Peace Be With You
Watching Prince Philip’s struggle to find meaning in his life made me feel… well, hygge. I felt an inner coziness, a warmth, a feeling of well-being.
I suppose there’s a bit of irony in it. Here’s a portrayal of a man who’s lived a life of extraordinary luxury and privilege, the patriarch of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families on earth. And here I am experiencing it from my little cottage in the woods, on one of the darkest and coldest days of the year. And I’m feeling this strong sense of empathy because I consider myself well on my way to finding something—something for which this character hadn’t a clue how to search. Inner peace. Philip showed me the gift of my pursuit.
Now granted, I still have my bad days. I still occasionally feel troubled or sad or lonely. I still get cabin fever (very occasionally). We’re all seeking well-being, and some days it’s damn hard to find. But I have an advantage. I think we all have it.
We writers are already on a quest. It’s incumbent upon the gig. We seek to ask and grapple with the questions in life, big and small. We are solitary but we are never really alone. We may not solve all of life’s mysteries, but we gain solace in striving for resolution, with each and every story we tell.
Day in and day out, we stand back and evaluate the human condition. And then we seek to share what we’ve found, in the most connective way possible, with our fellow humans. It’s what we do. And I think it’s a damn meaningful and fulfilling way to live.
So yes, I find coziness in a winter’s day. I find comfort in hunkering in my office, writing while the wind howls outside my windows. I find a solitude in winter’s quiet that provides reflection. I find well-being in my chosen pursuit. In storytelling I find inner peace.
I am the hygge writer.
How about you? Are your socks warm enough? Has a royal ever inspired you to feelings of superiority? How’s your well-being this winter? Are you a hygge writer, too?
Peace be with you, WU. Wishing you and yours the happiest of holiday seasons.
[Top image is: Twilight on Christmas Day, by PeS–Photo, on Flickr.]